Friday, November 25, 2011
He startled me as I walked around the corner at the annual "Coffeefest" trade show in Seattle. I was walking through the trade show with my younger brother Geoff, who owns a coffee shoppe in Bothell, and my sister Deb who had made the trek up from Battleground to experience the latest in caffeine delights. Suddenly out of no where, a large African American man was calling my name and rushing through a throng of people to get to me.
I recognized his smile immediately and moved toward him. A handshake was quickly followed by a hug and we stood there momentarily holding each other. When we separated, he stood back and I felt a deep warmth as his face beemed with a a smile stretching from ear-to-ear.
"You finally did it!", I said. "I am so proud of you.".
I marveled as I looked around at his display area. His booth was surrounded with a throng of people stepping up to sample his home-made organic teas. Three young women were creating the hot beverages for the eagerly waiting crowd and an older gentleman sitting near the back of the booth was putting together sample bags for the trade show participants. My friend stepped away for a moment to hijack a potential customer...mildly chastising them for attempting to pass by his booth without experiencing the best new item at the show.
Moments later he was back, his voiced filled with excitement (and what I could sense as humble pride) as he quickly described the last year of his life. I introduced him to my brother and sister, and when he saw Deb, he stepped back and looked at Deb in wonderment.
"You're the writer", he nearly shouted as he extended his hand as though he were meeting a celebrity. "I love your stories", he added . "Mark gave me the address to your blog. The stories are wonderful!". As I watched my sister, I could see the pleasure of meeting this man expressed throughout her entire being. Like me, she knew some of his story.
I had met this man nearly three years earlier whe we were both in a treatment program together. Like me, he had made a serious mistake that had cost him a promising career as an educator. And like mine, his fall was very public...and painful. During our time in group together, he had experienced the nightmarish life that is common for felons after their release from prison. A few months in a group home. Then finding himself living on the streets, his nights spent in a homeless shelter with other outcasts from our society. A weekend in jail for a miscommunication with his probation officer when he finally found a place to live...but it was in the next county.
As our friendship grew in group, I would usually find myself giving him a ride "home" to the little house where he lived with a group of other men. On on rides in the car we would talk about his desire to start a tea business. He talked about the classes he was talking through the Small Business Administration and I would share resources with him to create a business plan. We would talk about our families...or more accurately, about our ex-wives and the marriages we once had . Stories were shared about our children and the uncertainty of our futures.
Eventually, he graduated from group and I lost track of him. I would ask a few of my other friends from group if they had heard from him, but they too were unaware of what he was doing or where he was. I oftened wondered if he were pursuing his dream, but I also knew that the last five years had shattered the self-confidence of this amazing man.
When he called out to me on that Saturday afternoon in September, he helped to renew a bit of my own self-confidence. He reminded me that none of us are what we "were" when we fell from grace. He helped me to see that it is possible to overcome the barriers that we face that are often created by poor choices that we sometimes make. He restored hope in my life that the dreams that I have for my own business can be reached. And most importantly, he gave me great joy in being able to share in his rise from the ashes to become a successful entrepreneur