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.

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