I guess the point of integration is that it can, under the right circumstances, become inclusion.
Joe and I have been going to the same coffee shop for several years now. It's accidentally accessible. What I mean by that is that the building and the shop is older and the flat entrances and slightly wider doors are there as part of the design, so it just happens to be accessible. There is no intentionality about it. When we get there, it takes a bit to get in because they usually fill the foyer between the outer and inner door with stuff. It doesn't take much to move it, and they move it, without comment or complaint. They are efficiently, and maybe a little coldly, helpful.
It's one of those places where the same gang gathers all the time. Those regulars recognize us and are willing to move over a table to let us at the two or three tables that I can get to with my chair. It's never hopping busy, there's always other tables. Again, they do this quickly and without complaint but also without much warmth. Other than nodding at us in welcome, no one much ever talks to us.
I have no complaint about this. I don't expect people to immediately accept strangers, especially strangers that need something from them, to embrace our presence and include us in talk that often crosses several tables. We're good. We can get in. We can get out tea. We can chat with each other. We're good. Neither Joe or I have ever left there complaining about the slight chill from the others. I guess when you've got a place you can get into, people who make space for you and a cup of good tea, you don't want to wreck it in your head by looking too closely at it.
But something happened a couple weeks ago. We'd just sat down and a fellow who was at a table that we'd been directed to, said, "Mind if I just join you?" We said, "Sure." We stayed twice as long as we intended as he was an interesting fellow, easy to laughter, and who was able to engage in reciprocal conversation - avoiding monologues. We really enjoyed meeting him, really enjoyed that chat.
We left and I said to Joe, "What happened?"
Joe was as flummoxed as I was.
We went a couple days ago, not expecting the same kind of greeting but having a slightly different feeling about the place. We got our tea and were going by a table with three people at it. "Hey boys," called a woman at the table whose voice sounded well used, "don't sit over there by yourselves, join us if you'd like." We met three people there, people we'd seen and nodded to, people we didn't know in any other way. The chat was lively, a bit raucous, a bit naughty, and fun. It was great. Again we stayed much longer than we intended.
We don't know what happened.
We don't know why it happened.
But the place just transitioned from tolerant to welcoming.
And, I can't tell you how good that feels.