I find that in life, just when you need a boost, it comes from the most unexpected places. About 2 weeks ago or so I got an email about a talk being given at a local hotel. I like to keep busy, so I sign up for events and happenings around town. This email arrived in the inbox of the email account I still have from when I had my own restaurant, a small delightful Tea Room, or Tea House as some people referred to it. I am transitioning careers now and more inclined to read ALL my emails from all accounts. As I scrolled down this particular email I saw a familiar face. It was the face of a woman who had visited my little restaurant years ago.
Really, I am not great with faces, or names for that matter, but I remembered her well. Her name, Rosie Gordon-Wallace. That strong memory was mostly because years ago at the restaurant, she heard my last name and asked me if I was related to a Brown, who taught at the high school she attended in Jamaica. Interestingly enough, I was related to this woman. Brown is a pretty common name around the English speaking world! So imagine the odds! This woman was my aunt through marriage. Back then, when I disclosed she was my aunt, Rosie was elated. She spoke with high praises of Lily Brown (my aunt) and how having her as a teacher so wonderfully impacted her life. That memory of our conversation was still quite fresh as I stared at the email.
“Hmm, she is giving a talk” I said to myself. It was on a Monday at 9:30 am two weeks hence. I was free and I was very willing to go. As I mentioned, I am in a career transition. I need to network in every way possible. It was on Miami Beach, South Beach to be exact, at the Betsy Hotel right there on Ocean Drive. I was sure it would be worth it.
From my house, it would take me no more than half an hour to drive, park and walk to the event. But I should have known better. When I left my house at 9am, for what I considered to be ample time, it wasn’t. Truth is, there is always some kind of construction on the Beach, as South Beach is affectionately know. And while I was driving, trying to negotiate in my head the best route there, thinking where to park, I was happy I decided to get up, dressed and out the door. When you have been out of work for a while, you find that you that you need to really push yourself regularly to keep motivated. When I finally got to the Beach and parked, I proceeded to what I thought was the most direct way to walk to the hotel. I was already running late and over thinking the process. I ended up going a little more out of my way by taking the boardwalk rather than the street. This delayed my time further.
I had just begun to walk the boardwalk when I heard ” Is your name Frances?” I turned around to see two guys, employees of the Ritz Carlton South Beach on a golf cart. I did not recognize either one of them.
“Yes it is.” I replied.
” You don’t remember me?” one of them asked. “I am Cesar. I worked with you at the Waldorf in the kitchen.” Still no memory clicked. But to not make the situation more uncomfortable, I quickly nodded enthusiastically and embraced him like I did remember. (Do not be surprised if you see this pattern repeat in many of my encounters!) He asked me if I was participating in the upcoming South Beach Food and Wine Festival which was being set up on the beach in front of us. I told him no, and that I was currently unemployed. He looked over at his co-worker, introduced me as an amazing Chef that he worked with. Then he told me to go to the two different hotels where he currently works and apply. Grateful, I thanked him and told him I would follow up.
Right at that moment I recognized a connection. Or reconnection I should say! I was late, took the wrong turn and right at that moment bumped into someone from my past. That connection was meant to happen. Interestingly I had just posted ( see Everyday Encounters) about how connections from the past can return in your life. I thought about that. This connection could lead to a job! We chatted for a few minutes and then I continued on my way.
With the traffic issues and impromptu meeting I ended up being about 20 minutes late. I panicked, thinking that as I entered the room, I would be arriving at the last few minutes of her talk. Honestly, I had not even paid much attention to the topic of the talk. It did not matter. To me it was another opportunity to reconnect. The talk was being given in a small conference room downstairs, and when I walked in, Rosie was still at the podium speaking. I made my way along to side of the room, close to the front and settled in quietly.
Rosie was speaking about herself growing up in Jamaica. She spoke of many things that I connected with. Food, familiar places, sayings, people….. She spoke of how things that seemed big to her as a child, upon returning home were much smaller than she remembered. She referenced memory. “Memory”, she said “has nothing to do with accuracy.” It made perfect sense to me now! I reached for my phone and looked up the email about the talk. It was from a Series called “Places we call home” and Rosie was speaking on “Here/There: the potency of Memory” She was still in speaking about her early childhood. I relaxed. I had time!
Rosie Gordon-Wallace is the Executive Director of Diaspora Vibe Arts Incubator. Check it out.. http://www.dvcai.org/ As she spoke, I looked around the room and saw all different kinds of people – multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. I heard her tell stories of painful pasts, and great joys, strong, strong memories as well as faint wisps of memory that still hung around her. I saw myself in her. I looked at her hoping that she would remember me as she called to and referenced different people around the conference table. But she gave no indication of any memory triggered. She was reflective, personal, candid, funny, down to earth and brilliant. When her talk was over I was filled with pride. I was proud to be Jamaican; proud to be a woman; proud of her success and her struggles and how it reminded me of my own. In every way I was just proud.
It was time for questions. I didn’t really have one… any. One by one people came up to the podium and spoke of Rosie’s impact on their lives. Her determination, her kindness, her dedication to the arts, her encouragement of young artists. There were colleagues, friends, artists, people from all walks of life. Few questions, mostly colleagues and friends telling her how much they appreciate her and her work in the community. Graciously, she accepted the wonderful compliments, telling us all to stayed focused and determined, front and center in our efforts to promote ourselves. To quote her “Don’t hide behind the column! Come forward and stand in front.” Then I thought of a question. But by then, it was time to wrap things up and I lost my chance. She ended the talk by reading a poem by Lorna Goodison. It was about the Blue Mountains in Jamaica. The talk was over.
I immediately got up and made my way up to her. I walked over and said’ “Hello Rosie, I don’t know..” my voice trailed off because miraculously, she instantly remembered me! Miraculous to me that is! She immediately embraced me with the warmth and affection of a long lost friend. She told me that she had not initially recognized me when I walked in the room. She introduced me to those who started to gather around her, as the woman with the amazing Tea House and being from one of Jamaica’s premier families. A family of educators, she said. I stood there almost a little embarrassed to take that title of “premier family” One of her friends even said that my scones were the best she had ever had!
“What are you doing right now?” people would ask. I stuttered and stumbled over my words. I did not feel prepared or ready to answer. This was not good. This was my moment to do if nothing else network! Everyone else in the room slowly made their way to her. She and some of her colleagues asked for my business card. Crap! I did not have one.
It struck me right then how important it was to have one. I have been told for a while, and had simply ignored it. I just kept thinking that once I get a job, I won’t need one. But the truth is, that I needed a business card that represented me, not the next company I would work for. I need to promote me. That final reminder would be a final. I was going home to get it done immediately. The message from the universe was clear. Like a billboard on I-95, my friend Sandy would say. I had been reminded over and over and over. This was the knock on the head I needed.
I hovered around the room, speaking with different people, even reconnected with some who used to come to my Tea Room. I shared with the woman who organized the talk, Carol Hoffman-Guzman from Arts at St John that had I been working, I would not have been able to attend. Those words replayed in my mind. Interesting, I was clearly meant to be here. I shared my question with her. .. How do we, the non artist, the average person, get those people who have no connection to art exposed to it? Art is so important, especially to young disadvantage minds in our community. Carol was inspired by that question. This could lead to something. Even thought I did not get a chance to ask Rosie my question I left there extremely inspired. Rosie’s words, her stories, her memories were quite potent.
Imagine! What made me remember her, was what made her remember me – my aunt Lily Brown who has long passed away. Rosie spoke of perseverance, holding firm and proud to what you believe in and who you are. Blessings abound from the parents she had said. You know, those wonderful things that your parents did for others, that you now reap the benefits. How true! She reminded me of everything I have done and everything I should be doing, all at the same time. She gave me hope. Indeed, just when you need a boost, it comes from the most unexpected places. Unbeknownst to her she lifted me up, and strengthened my resolve.
An email landed in my inbox, I made a decision to read it completely; an opportunity to go was given and a connection reborn. The beauty of the universe is that we do not know what lies around the corner. But if you remain open to what comes, look beyond and between the lessons presented before you, embrace them with gratitude and acceptance, then the promise of what is to come lands right in your lap.