Sunday, October 10, 2010

Crossing Paths - Spare Change

The other day I stopped at my friendly neighborhood drugstore to pick up a bottle of nail polish remover. As I parked near the front of the store, I saw a young black man in a long trench coat, standing about ten feet away from the front door. I sat in my car for a minute and watched as he politely spoke to every one who approached the door, but it didn't appear he was asking for money. As I continued to watch, I noticed he only asked of those who were exiting the store.

I thought about his routine for a moment as I walked up through the breezeway that led to the front door. It made sense, I thought, for him to ask for a handout after everyone had made their purchases, and then ask for 'spare change'. What is 'spare change?' Every penny in my purse is the fruit of my labor; and in my eyes there is no such thing as 'spare change.'

As I got closer, I became more curious as to why he was there. He didn't smile, but nodded at me as if we ran into each other every day. I kept walking and as I browsed through the store, shopping and selecting knick knacks I didn't need, I thought about the young man and wrestled with my thoughts; trying to decide if I would give him some 'spare change' if he asked for some.
I wondered what he was: a drug addict, a teenage father, an alcoholic, a thief. I berated myself for assuming the worse, but decided for my dollar that I was going to ask.

As I approached him, he looked directly at me and asked if I could spare some change.
Could I 'spare' some change? Not 'did I have some spare change?' The request for 'Spare change' had been shortened. For the first time, I understood.
I smiled at him, hoping to give him some encouragement and handed him a folded dollar bill. His face and jawline looked hard. I looked into his eyes. They looked young and sad. His clothes were not tattered; his shoes looked average, not new, but not too run down. I guessed he couldn't have been older than twenty years of age.

I asked him why was he out there. He looked surprised for a moment, then explained in a very humble and soft spoken voice:
"My girlfriend and I were in foster care. We're both eighteen now. We're trying to get a place together because we don't want to be apart. She just got a job down the street at Mickey D's - that helps a lot; but if I can get a few more dollars in the next couple of days we'll have enough for the first month's rent on a place we found. Right now we're sleeping in my car." I wished him luck and told him I would pray for him and his girlfriend and went on my way. He gave me a big smile, thanked me and said, "Thank you ma'm. I needed that."

We hear these stories every day, but when these situations stare you in the face, sometimes it catches you off guard. It is certainly a wake up call. I chided myself, thinking how I assumed so much because he was asking for a handout. I walked slowly back to my car. As I drove away, I saw him bend over and smile at a baby in a stroller as the child's mother dug through her purse for 'spare change.'

I thought about his story and hoped he was telling me the truth. A couple of weeks after this encounter, Gov. Scharwzenneggar signed into legislation to extend transitional foster care services to the age of 21. Currently children in the system are emancipated at age 18. I hope the young man and his girlfriend will be able to take advantage of this program and move forward with their lives.

I know we can't help everyone, but I think we can all make a difference, with brief words of encouragement, a prayer, sharing knowledge, and even a dollar, one person at a time. The next time someone asks for 'spare change' it may not just mean they need a dollar or two. If you have time, say a prayer, give them a smile, or a kind word to help them along the way.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Signing - September 18th, 2010

Join me at the Euro Cafe on September 18th, 2010, from 3-5pm for coffee, conversation and a signed copy of In Laws and Play Cousins! Copies will be available for $20.00 each. Please click the link for detailed directions:
I would love to see you there!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Fourth of July 2010-07-04

The Fourth of July is significant because it commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in July 4th, 1776 and declared our independence from Great Britain. Most Family and friends usually celebrate the 4th of July at ceremonies, festivals, events, on vacations, at reunions and of course with the traditional barbecue. My family was no different, and the beauty of a family barbecue is that it can move around from one place to another, with the importance of the requisite fired-up grill, the savory meats, delectable side dishes and of course scrumptious desserts.

The day after the barbecue, I received a short, but emotional note from my adult daughter, tearfully apologizing for a very small incident at the barbecue. I thought about the incident, took notice, but it was irrelevant because there were so many other important things happening there.

I replied with the following:

Dear Daughter: Whenever we get together with family, nothing else matters except for the beauty of seeing everyone together. You may not realize this, but whenever family gets together, it is indelibly stamped in our memories forever. Twenty years from now, Steffi (my granddaughter) will be telling her kids, 'I remember one year at our family's barbecue, and my daddy burned most of the meat and threw water balloons at us.'
We take the good with the bad, the serious with the silliness; it all makes for memories that are a part of our lives. Thank you so much for getting our family together. It is very important for everyone. Yesterday was the first time I saw my newborn youngest niece, and met my adult niece's boyfriend, whom I know she is very fond of. He and I had a very pleasant conversation, and I found out he is from Brooklyn. I like him. Your mother-in-law finally met your Aunt Silvia for the first time, and that meeting was special because Silvia is like my sister. Silvia also beat me at double 12 dominoes, after I taught her how to play them, so now she has bragging rights.
Silvia and I had a good laugh when a little boy walked outside with a batman costume on, and we both hoped it wasn't either her grandson or mine. You were responsible for putting all that together; the smiles, the laughter, and the camaraderie. That is what I took away from the barbecue yesterday. Forget about the mishaps and cherish the memories.

Love you always, Mommy

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Crossing Paths - The Sound of Music

I recently heard a psychologist say that people who played musical instruments were pretty versatile and well rounded in thinking, feeling and passion.
During that same session, the moderator asked us all to reveal something about ourselves that the other group members did not know. I shared that years ago I was a classically trained flautist. As he evaluated each our hidden talents, he asked the group, “How many here think Robyn should pick her flute back up and play again?” All hands immediately went up. I thought about my beautiful open-hole Haynes flute safely tucked away in a drawer. I hadn’t lifted it to my lips in years.

About a week later, I reconnected with a dear childhood friend and received a beautiful note on Facebook from him. He asked me if I still planned to play at the Hollywood Bowl one day with renowned jazz flautist Herbie Mann. He said, ‘I remember you used to write that on the chalkboard in the music class – Robyn Gant vs. Herbie Mann, Hollywood Bowl.’ I became emotional. It is amazing what people remember about you and your dreams. I read the note again, saved it and pulled out my flute. It still looked the same. I put it away.

The next day on the train, about two seats over, two young people got on the train and she asked him what he’d done that weekend. He shared that he had attended the Playboy Jazz Festival for the first time. The excitement in his voice caught my attention and I began to ease drop. As he talked, I realized he had to be a music student. He told her how he watched the bass players, the full orchestras, and described to his friend in detail how his favorite musicians played: their percussion styles, even describing the beauty of fifths, sevenths and adagios in the music. I recalled how excited I was the first time I went to the Hollywood bowl. I was playing in summer school concert band, led by the late great Bill Bogosian, and each year we went on a field trip. That year the soon-to-be legendary Zubin Mehta was directing the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

I wanted to get in that conversation and tell him I used to play jazz flute, first chair concert band, high school and college marching band. I wanted to speak the same language, and share that I’d written, published and recorded music and had airplay. I’d played piano and directed choirs, and then one day I just stopped.

And I remembered that my flute had been placed in a drawer, hidden away. I’d abandoned something that I’d lived and breathed for nearly twenty-five years, over half my life. And just when I thought that those subtle, subliminal hints weren’t enough, a few days after eavesdropping on the teen discovering his first jazz concert, I watched a young man walk onto the train with a shiny new acoustic guitar. There were no seats left so he stood nearby, and I noticed his tennis shoes were tattered, had holes on the tops and the sides were worn out. My eyes traveled back up and I said a silent prayer, asking God to bless that boy with a new pair of shoes. Then I looked his guitar again. It was shiny, beautiful, and expensive. I smiled and understood.

I remembered when I was a teenager, my junior high friends and I all got summer jobs making three dollars an hour. They would head to the mall after their parents cashed their checks, planning to spend their money on clothes and fashionable matching gear. I would catch the bus to a music store on Garey Avenue in Pomona, and spend nearly half of my check on sheet music. I would sit in my room and play and practice for hours until my mother told me to go to bed. I never got tired of playing and listening to Mozart, Bach and Gershwin.

Those young people will never realize how much they influenced my decision to dust off my flute and pick up where I left off. I know that I will never duet with the great Herbie Mann or play with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but as I closed my eyes and fingered ‘Little Prelude in C Minor’ by Bach, I realized that it is not too late to rediscover, or reawaken a dream.

Are you doing what you dreamed you wanted to do? Don’t let life pass you by. Take a chance, reawaken that inspiration, dust off that idea, take some time to walk through the door you closed long ago, when you thought your dream was impossible or unattainable.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Crossing Paths - A Suggestion for Your Bucket List

It is my opinion that one of the few delights in life are meeting someone who speaks another language, and then attempting to communicate with them. A few years back I listened to a lovely lady in a retirement community lament because she had no one to speak to her in her native German. About six months later, the company hired a German chef who was fluent in her 1st language. I was giving him a tour of our facility and we ran into her. She had heard about him and was eager to converse, so she greeted him and they instantly hit it off. They talked for about ten minutes or so, she discovering they knew the same people in a small town off the left bank. I smiled as I watched her face light up in recognition of the places he shared that they were both familiar with.

I thought about that day as I sat on the train, watching two gentlemen converse in ASL. As I sat across from them I watched, slightly envious, wishing I could remember some of the words I’d been taught years ago. I watched as one spelled his name to the other and I chuckled out loud, happy that I’d been able to decipher his name. They looked over at me smiling. That was my cue. I immediately signed my name back and one said out loud, ‘Robin.’ When I nodded, they signed their names back and showed me a couple of words.

I think everyone has a bucket list. Places they would like to go, family and friends they would like to see, frivolous trinkets they would like to buy. I’ve heard people say they would like to visit the seven wonders of the modern world, run with the bulls in Spain, relax on an exotic beach, visit the motherland, trace their genealogy, the list goes on and on. What about the beauty to be able to communicate with those who are unable to in conventional ways? Can you now imagine a world, where perhaps, one day out of the week, everyone stopped to talk to each other, face to face, or via American Sign Language, instead of electronically? We could again revert back to studying human emotions, smiling at each other, expressing ourselves, with no misread on comments, blogs, emails or tweets. We have become so electronically connected, that we have disconnected ourselves from human emotion. The detachment is leading to social retardation and we have become dependent on it to the degree that it is now the preferred method of communication. I too, am guilty, but that day on the train awoke my senses and excitement in being able to communicate with a stranger with a smile on his face as I signed my name. On my bucket list I’ve just added ‘Take a class in American Sign Language.’

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Crossing Paths - Self Confidence

Sitting on the train as I headed to work, I did something I don't usually do - I watched the people getting on the train as it pulled into one particular stop. I wasn't looking for anyone, I guess it was just that I was taking a break from reading. I'm not a people watcher, but a young man getting on the train caught my eye. He was extremely well-dressed, and his suit, from what I could see, appeared to be tailored to fit. Good shoes, great satchel, well groomed, and he stepped onto the train and began walking down the aisle with a very self-confident stride. As he approached my aisle I looked up at him and we smiled. I've been told I have a friendly, or approachable smile, and I appreciate that because he asked, 'Is this seat taken?' I thought briefly of Forrest Gump and shook my head. 'It's yours,' I smiled and he sat down.

I complimented him on his suit and he immediately launched into conversation - he was headed for his 3rd job interview with a global company, had just received his MBA and felt great about the possibilities. My human resource instincts immediately kicked in, and I started to offer him some tips on what to say and not to say or do during his 3rd, and what would probably be his final interview in offering him the position. His demeanor was very sure, confident, but not arrogant. He was right at that fine line that possesses just a hair of humbleness, but enough confidence to ensure his place.

I mentioned how challenging and dismal the job market was and he seemed surprised and shook his head. He said, 'the job market isn't that bad. You just have to know where to look, be persistent and keep your head up.'

His words surprised me. I immediately became his silent cheerleader, and said a prayer asking God to allow the young man to do well enough on his job interview to secure the position he sought.

We talked for about an hour, and when we reached my train exit, he asked for my name and number; he wanted to call and tell me later in the week if he got the job. The next day I lost my cell phone on the train, and because it usually takes 1-2 weeks for lost items to reach the train's lost and found department, I had the phone shut off.

That young man and I may probably never cross paths again, but he taught me a lesson in confidence. I learned that even with today's economy, there are unemployed people out there that feel so good about themselves, that they continue to smile and be confident in the face of pessimism and discouraging numbers. I pray for more smiles, more confidence and positive attitudes for those in these troubled times who feel they want to give up, and for those who refuse to believe that beyond the dark clouds is the dawn of a brand new day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Crossing Paths - Wake up call

Everyone has prejudices. Colors, skin tones, religious opinions, ethnic background, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age. Some are blatant and extend only at the surface; some are deeply rooted; some are casually passed as an insensitive remark and some are passed along from mouth to ear, from one generation to the next.

There is no big or little prejudice; they are all assuming and discriminatory. I never fail to be amused when I hear brothers of African-American descent STILL complain how a white woman clutches her purse closer to her side if they enter an elevator, or sit next to her on a bus or train.

Have they ever been robbed by a black man? What is the reasoning behind this slight but obvious and insecure movement?

But I digress. I discovered my 'prejudice' a few days ago. It was short-lived; but none the less I was ashamed and I thank God for the wake up call.

While I was standing on the platform waiting for my commuter train, I overheard a woman's voice asking a man if the next train due to arrive was going east or west. Her question was not clear; it was apparent she had a speech impediment, perhaps due to a stroke, childhood disease or maybe she was deaf. Her words were so warbled and difficult to understand that finally after her nth attempt at getting her question answered, she gave up. I didn't turn around. I could hear her voice farther away, asking someone else, but apparently they couldn't understand either, and she walked back towards where I was standing and very softly and politely tapped me on the shoulder.

I turned around and told her the next train was traveling east and would arrive in about five minutes. I turned away, and immediately I was ashamed of myself. My mother taught me better than this. Selfishly, I didn't want to start a conversation for several reasons. I was in the middle of reading a really good book, and I didn't want to take the time to ask her over and over again to repeat her questions or comments just because I couldn't understand her.

When the train car pulled up I momentarily forgot about her and searched for a seat. Lucky me - I found one and plopped down, speaking briefly to my seat mates and burrowing my nose into the book. At the very next train station, the woman sitting next to me got up and exited the train. The next person who sat down, out of at least 200 people riding on the metrolink, was the woman from the train station whose speech I could not understand.

She smiled at me, and I looked into her eyes. She was probably in her 60's, and had the kindest face. She said, 'thank you for helping me. this is my first time catching the train. I was visiting my cousin, and her neighbor dropped me off here so I wouldn't have to catch the bus all the way home.'

Her speech was still difficult to understand, but her words were now clear to me because not only did I open my eyes, I opened my ears. I closed my book and smiled back. We talked about our children and grandchilden, one of my favorite subjects. I shared my pictures of the little ones with her and she brought out pictures of her grandchildren. It was one of the most pleasant conversations I've ever had on the train. There was not one comment that she made in which I did not understand her. She never brought up the reason for her slow speech and distorted words, but to my ears they no longer were, I discovered. When she disembarked, I said a silent prayer for her, and also asked for God to forgive me for being so selfish.

Just as I take a daily journey on a train, our ears and eyes should journey to listen and see the differences in people, accept them and keep on moving. We learn so much from people we meet, and God, in his infinite wisdom, always seems to allow different paths to interconnect for a variety of reasons. We may not ever discover what the reason is, but I'm so very glad he is God. And He has a reason and a purpose for everything.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crossing Paths - A Teen In Pain

Ninety-Nine percent of my blogs will discuss the paths I cross with people I meet daily. Interaction plays a huge role in my thoughts, because it is during this interaction that a revelation, coincidence or a chance connection occurs.

It is up to the individual what their perception is as to how big or small the world is. I personally think that the world is small, and the chance meetings we have are more than coincidental. I believe there is a reason, a message to be transmitted and/or a lesson to be learned with each and every one. We cannot always know or decipher the reason; and perhaps it is because the person that we spoke to, smiled at or complimented simply needed to hear some words of encourgement or something to uplift them.

As I sat on the train on my way home a couple of weeks ago, I sat back and began listening to my ipod. A co-worker of mine had just uploaded some new songs for me, and named the playlist, "Train Ride Home." So I began listening, smiling at some of the retro selections he had picked for my listening pleasure, including 'Get By' by Talib Kweli. When Miles Davis' version of 'So What' came on, I relaxed even more and started looking around. I noticed a young black girl, probably about seventeen or eighteen, sitting in the row across from me. She was holding a little girl, who was asleep in her arms. The little girl looked to be no older than two. There was a large shopping bag in the seat next to her, and a suitcase in front of her. I stared at her for a minute, because of the expression on her face. It held so much pain! My heart began to ache for her, and all kinds of thoughts went through my mind. Without a doubt she was a teen mother, but the sadness in her eyes held something that told a monumental tale, and I was sure that the precious little sleeping girl she held had something to do with it.

I said a prayer for her, and asked God to use me to help her in some kind of way. God does not play. When you ask for something, you better be prepared to do what he tells you.

Something told me to put away my ipod, so I did, and I pulled out my laptop. About 7 minutes after my feeble prayer, the girl waved her hand at me, and said, "Ma'm,' can I plug my cell phone into your laptop for a few minutes to charge it? My phone is dead. I have a USB port."

I jumped on it. Nodding my head, I said, "Why don't I sit beside you? Then that way, I can work and you can hold onto your phone." She moved her bags, and about ten minutes later she revealed the reasons for her disposition: a one night stand with a boy she met at a party; teen pregnancy, high school dropout, county aide recipient. It was sad, and now I understood her pain. What was worse was that now that the distant father was paying child support, the family wanted to spend time with the little girl. So she was taking her daughter to strangers for the first time. It made my heart ache for the child, because her plan was to leave her there with them for the weekend. She and the father had minimum contact, but it was what he wanted.

I asked her what was she going to do with her free time. She said she didn't know, but she was thinking about looking for a job. She was in a state-funded return-to-work program and was learning new skills. I told her about a couple of schools that had three-month nursing assistant programs, and told her that if she was able to get in one, once she finished I would try to help her find a job.

I gave her my office number and asked her to call me. Before I disembarked, she smiled, and even laughed at something silly I said. Her smile spoke volumes. I hope she will call. I want to help, even if it is to simply point her in the direction of some resources that will prevent her and her daughter from contributing to urban Los Angeles' growing statistics of single unwed mothers. And if she doesn't call, its okay. God heard my prayer as he always does, and through Him I hope I planted a seed of some hope or encouragement.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Crossing Paths

Have you ever gone on vacation to another state or country and run into someone you know? How amazing is it in this big world to live in California, go another country, decide to skip the requisite package tour and instead visit an out of the way dive and run into someone you went to school or college with or worked with years ago? Odd, but it has happened.
One Friday afternoon I exited my commuter train, sat down in the shade on a bus stop in the charming and quaint suburban town of Claremont, California to wait for my ride. In California language, it was a perfect day. The breeze was warm, and the sun threw hints of summer lingering on my face, even though it was the first day of October. By my estimation, it was eighty degrees. The weather and the surroundings were so lovely that I selfishly wished on my husband’s delay so that I could have more time to enjoy it.
A band was setting up for a free jazz concert at the depot, and every one that passed me slowed down enough to exchange pleasantries.
At the train depot in Claremont, the park like area surroundings encompassed the equivalent of approximately an acre to which there were four black wrought iron benches placed roughly twenty to fifty feet apart.

I sat down on one bench to face the band and watch them for a while as they performed mike checks and tuned instruments. When I decided to read, I moved over to another vacant bench located closer to the street and facing a small parking lot. About fifteen minutes into my reading, a pleasant looking woman, mid fifties, with a cast on her left arm came walking by and sat down on my bench on the other end.
We nodded and spoke, and she told me she had caught an earlier than usual train home and was waiting for her husband. I revealed that I too had caught an earlier train home, and had about an hour wait but I didn’t mind because the weather was so nice.
We continued talking, sharing our lengthy commuter trek stories but both agreeing that it was worth it for the work we performed. She asked me where I worked, and I told her. She told me she used to work for a company with a similar name. When I told her my company had merged with her company, she told me she ran that company for several years and began to name some of my coworkers.
When her ride drove up, she walked to the car, then came back to talk to me again, asking about several other former coworkers and people I might know. We exchanged names and waved goodbye.
When I think of that day, I wonder about the amazement of coincidences and the events that lead up to those events that lead up to those events. She'd caught an earlier than usual train home from Van Nuys, a city approximately 100 miles away from where we were sitting. I had caught an earlier train home and instead of exiting at my normal station about another two miles away, I'd stopped here to wait for my ride, deciding to disembark in Claremont because of the park like atmosphere.
One woman she asked about in particular was a resident I very rarely saw, usually just once a month. Remarkably, I had run into her the day before, and we talked for just minutes, but enough for her memory and our conversation to be indelibly stamped in my mind.
I also thought it to be interesting that usually when people see someone reading a book, they speak and keep on moving, not insist on a conversation. And it wasn’t that she insisted, it was that I believe she saw me and felt a connection to the point where she felt drawn to make conversation. The mystery is that I will probably never know what the connection was. Here you have a fifty to sixty year old white woman in a predominately white town sitting on a bus bench waiting on for her husband, and a forty something black woman with wild hair whipped up by the wind waiting for her man.
For the fifteen minutes we talked, we became transitory friends, laughing, appreciating the weather, life and complimenting the people we'd discovered that we jointly knew. We also discovered that we'd both been invited to the same retirement party earlier that year for a mutual coworker and we both had declined for various reasons. I wonder if we had attended that retirement party, would we have been introduced? Met? Crossed paths and enjoyed a polite conversation as we did on that Friday afternoon at the train depot? Probably not, because of the circumstances that threw us together.
As of the last census, there were 33 million people living and working in California. In the county of Los Angeles, there are nearly 11 million people. In the city of Van Nuys there are approximately 46,000, and in the city of Claremont there are about 36,000.

For in life, I believe there are no coincidences; just the happenstance that, regardless of the population or the location, a series, or chain of events will always cause people to cross paths in some way, shape fashion or form wherever they go.

Leaving Technology Behind - The Lost Phone

Here comes a big what if - what if you’re stranded away from home with no phone, no smartwatch, with pay phones becoming more obsolete in mo...