It’s hard to miss Mearl Bergeson every other Tuesday at Recovery Café. Initially his height might catch your eye – Mearl is strikingly tall and handles a mop with lithe grace – but as he turns and you glimpse his face, that’s what makes an impression. Mearl simply beams. And it’s not just cheerfulness but expectation: with any encounter, Mearl anticipates what he calls magic, a meaningful connection that cuts through chit-chat and “goes deep.” So as a Minister of Presence at the Café, with a smile and raised eyebrows Mearl canvasses the main floor, ready for a memorable exchange. “Actually I don’t talk with members about sports, or more typical stuff. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to go to a special place with anyone.” Mearl can’t help but smile describing this dynamic. “I gain so much from my interactions here. Usually I’m the one challenged by a fresh way of thinking.”
One Recovery Café member, Zachary, who swims regularly at the YMCA where Mearl sits on the Camping Board, shared a nugget of wisdom that has always stuck. Their conversation steered toward family. Mearl recounts, “I was telling him, looking back, how I wish I could have done some things better as a parent. He said, ‘but were you a better father than your father?’ Very comforting.”
There are of course lighter moments and surprising coincidences. Somehow Mearl (from Iowa) and Café colleague Grant (from the northeast) discovered that as young men, they both worked in meat-packing plants and shared a college Classics professor. “Yeah,” Mearl laughs, “go figure.”
Trying to nail why he’s hooked on Recovery Café volunteering, Mearl doesn’t miss a beat: “It’s the relationships, the comraderie. People recognize me here, and I know them.” “Plus,” he offers, “I like sweeping floors and putting up tables. That’s when the magic happens, when polite boundaries crack and people start to share.”
Showing up is habitual for Mearl, who walks 30 minutes to Recovery Café from his Merrill Lynch office. He was first drawn to the Café over 3 years ago, when he read a RC feature in The Seattle Times, sent a donation to 2022 Boren Avenue, and was invited by Killian Noe to an annual breakfast event. “That did it,” Mearl confesses. “As soon as I saw your staff in action and heard their sincerity, I wanted to be part of this.” Although Mearl had a long history of public service with his children’s schools, Cub Scout Pack 144, and YMCA Camps (particularly developing adult camps) Recovery Café was his first continued exposure, volunteer-wise, to a distressed community. Yet personally, suffering hits a nerve for Mearl. Growing up in Sioux City, he was surrounded by alcoholism and depression within his own family, and he openly wonders how an organization like Recovery Café might have impacted his childhood.
“It’s important that people struggling are seen. I want RC members to know they matter, to be celebrated and made to feel special. I wish in the United States we had, like, a coffee shop for mental health on every corner, in every community. We need that.”
So every other Tuesday evening at Recovery Café, for 2 hours Mearl Bergeson weaves in and out of conversations as a Minister of Connection and Joy and Card-Playing and Mopping. His antennae are up, as he expects something significant any minute. Mearl looks out – seriously — for the Pixie Dust. (One woman he met in a grocery-store checkout line followed him to the front sidewalk and blessed his bike, waving her hand to dispense invisible protection). Every interaction counts.
“I’m so grateful. Don’t you think this place is different? Can you feel it?”
Yes, Mearl. Your face is shining.