Rider for Change: Angels Amongst Us

Cycling through Oxnard, CA, I got my second flat. Luckily for me it was just as I was approaching A Street in downtown Oxnard where the town square is located. Across the plaza, I spotted a Starbucks and walked my bike over. Parking the bike at an empty outside table, I proceeded to get the necessary tools and materials to begin changing the tire. Once I had everything I needed I sat down to get to work and as I removed the rear tire I happened to make eye contact with a woman sitting at a table next to me. After I initiated a conversation and introduced myself, she responded by telling me that her name was Linda, and as I worked to fix my flat she and I began what would turn out to be an enlightening and informative chat.

Call it serendipity, but it turns out that she was born, grew up, and used to live in Santa Monica, CA, the town I’ve called home for over the past 20 years. We spoke about landmarks such as the Pioneer Bakery on Rose where one could buy  delicious fresh bread daily and how the smell of that bread baking permeated the neighborhood. The bakery is now gone; high-end condominiums have sprung up to replace it. Linda informed me that the area where I taught on Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, CA, used to be farmland when she was a child. She asked me if I knew of St. Clements Church on 3rd street. She used to go there when she was a child. “That was a long time ago”, she said. Linda, you see is currently a middle-aged homeless woman and has been for some time now.

Time passed; I repaired the tire and we continued to chat. After asking her if I could get some ice cream for us to share, she told me that she couldn’t eat ice cream because she is diabetic, but if they had sherbet or yogurt she would be happy to have some with me. I walked over to the Cold Stone creamery across the way and bought us a couple of cones while she watched my things. When I came back and handed her the cone she called me one of her angels. I commented that it was good of her to watch out for her health and she said, “I choose to live.”

We spoke a lot about religion and angels that afternoon. Linda told me that she was able to see angels right there at the Starbucks. I thought nothing of it and the conversation continued as she shared stories about her life and how she survived on the streets. At one point two men walked over and one handed her a brown lunch paper bag, said that his friend standing next to him wanted her to have it. As they walked away she identified them to me as some of her angels! She opened the bag and pulled out some granola bars and an orange, and with a smile on her face said, “I’m going to eat well tonight.”

Shortly after the men left, a woman came over, hugged Linda, and informed her that she had found her a place where she could stay for a week. The free space was available the next day. While they spoke, I introduced myself and she told me that she was a homeless advocate through her church; her name was Darlene Elaine Miller. When she left, Linda identified her as another one of her angels and it all started to make sense to me.

Far from being sweet spiritual religious figures, angels are everyday powerful empathetic human beings who work to do good in our lives and the lives of others. They walk amongst us, work amongst us, giving of themselves without wanting anything in return other than to lift up their fellow human beings. They know that there is something out there bigger than you and I. They live a life of purpose knowing that we are here but a short time and place service to humanity as their highest goal.

Using the ACEs Connection Network, I’ve been contacting and meeting with its members as I ride through their communities. In doing so, I’m meeting many angels, several of whom I’ve already written about. Four loving, empathetic, and compassionate individuals that I’ve recently sat down, broken bread, and shared stories with are Dave Lockridge, Kathy Brous, George D. Patrin, and Dana Brown.

Dave is a Baptist minister who holds a degree in Biblical studies from Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College, and a psychology degree from Liberty University; he's also a certified anger management facilitator. He and I shared an Italian dinner in Merced at one of his favorite restaurants and through the course of dinner spoke about a variety of topics -- too many to cover in this piece, but I want to address just a few important moments that stood out for me. I'll begin with a story he shared from his childhood that I think gives us a sense of not just who he is, but also the family he grew up in and the impact it had on his development. Dave shared with me that he grew up in one of the boroughs of New York. In his house along with his parents and siblings lived his elderly grandmother and in the house next door there lived a Jewish family who had their elderly grandfather residing with them. One night after everyone had gone to bed they where woken by frantic knocking at the front door. His father went to see who could be knocking at this hour. When he opened the door David’s father was met by the panicked daughter of the elderly man next door. She anxiously told him that her father had fallen out of bed and they couldn’t help him. David’s father didn’t hesitate and went right over as David followed. When they arrived in the bedroom they found the elderly man on the floor. David’s father gently picked him up and carried him toward his bed, as he was doing so the elderly man began to cry. Thinking he was hurting him David’s father asked the man if he was all right. The man responded by saying, “I never thought the day would come when one of you would ever help one of us.” The elderly man was a holocaust survivor and David’s father’s compassion and empathy overwhelmed him.

David has gone on to take that lesson in love, compassion, and empathy for our fellow man and make it his life’s work. He is applying what he’s learned through his studies of theology and psychology and ministering to people in need by creating ACE Overcomers. Through his work he combines the knowledge shared by people such as Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Bruce Perry with the study and application of scripture. I find David’s work to be highly important and extremely exciting because faith-based organizations are on the front lines when it comes to dealing with people who are impacted by trauma. If they follow David’s lead, they can have a monumental and tremendous impact. When religious organizations become trauma informed and apply it to the work they do millions will be transformed!  Find out more about Dave go to http://www.aceovercomers.blogspot.com

[Photo at left: Me, Kathy and Dana]

Kathy moved the Southern California ACE’S group meeting to Cherokee Point Elementary and that’s where we met. One of the things that Kathy is passionate about is making us aware about the importance of healthy attachment. In her book Don’t Try this at Home, she writes about “The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder.” I read and we spoke about one of the pieces that she’s written called “No Tears for Dad” in which she recounts the lack of a real healthy connection with her father and of her longing to have that with him. I told her that I was filled with emotion upon reading about the day of her father's funeral at which she sang, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which she wrote was a long-time family favorite. Everyone cried; everyone except Kathy.

Speaking with Kathy made me reflect on all the young people in this world who long for connection. Children growing up in the foster care system, juvenile detention system, and homelessness. Children who’ve lost the ability to cry, so beaten down that they’ve become numb to the world. To read Kathy’s work please go to - www.AttachmentDisorderHealing.com/book/

[Photo: George and I put on the nose!]

George and I sat down together for breakfast at an IHOP in Austin, TX. The first thing he did upon sitting down is put on a clown nose, something he's been doing since meeting and traveling with Patch Adams and 32 International clowns to Russia in 2012. There's 'power' in the nose, he said, with a grin." He told me that everyone should put on a clown nose every once in awhile because it helps to remind one to 'get over ourselves' and to remember that we are in service to those who depend on us. When the waiter came over his response to the nose was priceless. George shared that every time he puts on the nose people drop their guard, brighten up and go beyond judgment and actually engage and connect. To open a little window and give you a small glimpse into George, I have to go back to a very personal moment that he shared with me. He was a medical student, after he’d been a paramedic and experienced coming to people's aid in their homes. It was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, people did not know as much about AIDS or how it was transmitted and there was a great deal of fear surrounding the disease. George was working in the hospital and came upon an AIDS patient. The man asked for his help, he wanted to sit up and in order to do so he needed to be picked up and moved. George told me that he went over to the man and, even though he was somewhat afraid, he picked him up. He remembered their faces touching cheek to cheek as he wrapped his arms around him and lifted him to a sitting position. As he shared this simple act of kindness with me, George was overcome with emotion.

George has helped many people since then and has continued that continuum of care as a pediatrician and in healthcare administration attending to patient-centered family-focused health. But someone he was not able to help and who has put him on the path he is currently on is his youngest son. About five years ago -- April 7th 2009 -- his son, Andrew, an incredibly sensitive and creative young man, committed suicide. As he struggled with the questions of how could it have happened and why, something he has come to firmly believe is that it shouldn’t have happened, it doesn’t need to happen, suicide is preventable and George is on a mission to end suicide in his lifetime. He has created an organization the Serendipity Alliance - find out more about George at http://www.pcpcc.org/profile/george-patrin

Dana is a force to be reckoned with who shares her passion for social justice with our youth by providing them with the skills to become leaders on issues that matter to them, skills that will be useful to them for the rest of their lives. Dana is a living example of someone who understands and lives a life of service. Through her work she is engaging our future generations towards the development of a more equitable and inclusive society and creating a generation of change agents who will one day become civic leaders -- a generation of "heart-based" and compassionate leaders that will develop, enrich, improve, and enhance our communities.

Being the gracious and caring person that she is, Dana offered to pick me up from the motel I stayed at overnight and drive me back to Cherokee Point Elementary where I had left my bike to attend the Celebration of Compassion day that she helped organize. On the ride we spoke openly about something that we both deeply believe which is that we are here for a reason and that there is no greater happiness than to live a life of purpose. We are both spiritual people who know that there is so much more to life than the acquisition of things and that true happiness is acquired through connection with others. That once you learn to love yourself you are able to love and give of yourself to others and in doing so you get so much back in return. I can’t say enough about the work that Dana is involved in and ask you to read about it for yourselves at http://www.heartbasedlanguage.com/

As I got on my bike and rode away from Cherokee,  Dana said, “may you feel the hordes of angels surrounding you James”....

You can support the fundraising effort for Echo Parenting and Education by going to . http://www.crowdrise.com/riderforchange/fundraiser/jamesencinas

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My life is enhanced and more joyful having met James, sharing our lives and stories. What a rare opportunity and blessing to have met a new soul-mate. Thank you, James, for making time for me. I encourage other ACES colleagues to monitor Jame's ride and go out to meet him should he cross your path! It's Serendipity in action.
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