by Marn Norwich

Over the years, the practice of coworking has heaped blessings upon me. It’s been a vehicle for upliftment, friendship, networking, community-building, laughter, learning, productivity, creativity, focus and money-money-making, to name a few benefits. Coworking has certainly enhanced my life beyond imagination, and until yesterday, to say that it has saved my life would have been poetic posturing. But yesterday, coworking may have actually saved my life.

I was sitting at a long table at one of my favourite coworking spaces (please note that this was not Subculture). It was a sunny day, and I was preparing to meet a new client. He was driving in from Coquitlam to see me about a report he wanted me to write (some details changed to protect privacy).

John entered our space in a convivial storm. At 68, he had the scraggly look of a man who had lived hard and real, and he had a friendly vibe. He walked with a cane and dressed like a lumberjack. We shook hands, and he sat across from me. Immediately, he began to describe to me his work and the personal history that lead him to his current job, an outdoorsy adventure of a career. He knew fellows in both the local mob and the government – friends on both sides, was how he put it. But he never colluded with the underside, he said, as he didn’t want to get into that unsavoury territory.

He seemed to me to be a caricature of a type of man – a sincere rascal, an outdoorsman with a good head and heart. He seemed like a fine man, and I felt an immediate affinity for John.

After a while, I suggested that we get to working on his project. At this point, John told me that the side door lock was broken on his van, parked nearby. He lacked computer prowess and wondered if I’d mind joining him in his van so he could pass me some papers.

While I felt inconvenienced by the request – I was happily embedded in my coworking space – I said I would oblige. In the moment, there didn’t seem to be an alternative.

At this point, the woman seated to my right at the long table interrupted. “Is that a long knife you’re carrying on your belt loop?” she asked John.

I had not noticed.

He seemed surprised but admitted it was. “I live in the bush,” he explained.

“Well, we’re not in the bush,” the woman told John. “You should not be carrying that knife in the city.”

She shot me a meaningful look.

The two bantered about the knife for a few minutes. It was a crazy conversation to witness, especially in light of the fact that I was considering getting into a vehicle with this knife-bearing man.  I realized that no conclusion between the two could satisfy me. When there was a pause, I said to John, “I feel good about you. But this conversation has reminded me that I have a personal rule abut not getting into cars with strangers. Could you possibly bring the documents into this space?”

“Alright,” he said, with no apparent sense of disgruntlement.

As he limped out of the space, I turned toward the woman. She was an older woman with bright, clear eyes. She told me she had spent her time in the trenches, fighting violence against women. She had worked with sex trade workers and knew how sometimes even a woman with seasoned sensibilities could err tragically in her assessment of a man.

Suddenly, I felt a wave of sadness. I told her that I was in the midst of a breakup and could now see that the  disruption I was experiencing was affecting my normal. I felt alarmed that I had almost broken my personal rule for no good reason and entered a vehicle with a knife-bearing man.

We both agreed that he seemed to be who he claimed he was, and we were impressed that he had not responded in anger to my request.

When John returned, we continued our dialogue in good spirits and agreed on the next step for our contract.

When he left, I thanked my table-mate. Her perceptivity, forthrightness and courage may have spared me trauma. At the very least, she brought to attention how my passing emotional state could be affecting my decision-making abilities. I thank the communal atmosphere of my coworking space, where people take notice of – and responsibility for – each other, for the self-understanding I achieved yesterday – and possibly for my life.

Marn Norwich