The wind pushed her relentlessly along the chilly city streets; people jostled, elbowed, and rushed by her, staring blankly at her--or blindly past her. The wind had whipped her long hair across her face and into her eyes; the pavement had pounded itself painfully against her feet, right through the heavy soles of her brand new "walking" shoes.
In short, the streets had finally worn her out. She felt as if she had walked from one end of Manhattan to the other. And what had all this punishment been in the name of? She was simply doing what any red-blooded American girl does visiting a new city--going shopping, of course!
There was still some "shop-till-I-drop" left in her, though, which made her notice the gift shop inside the Plaza Hotel lobby as she searched for a place to eat a wonderful, expensive meal to reward herself for putting on an optimistic face through all the strain of the days she had spent in New York. The opera coaching and auditioning she had done with her voice's new-found admirer, Katerina, had definitely taken its toll.
When she had gotten off the plane from Portland she had had no idea what might happen! She had carried her newly learned affirmations of "truth" before her like a sword and shield, trying to remember to wield them whenever doubt crept in on stealthy, cat-quiet paws.
Doubts about herself had been almost impossible to deal with six months ago, before she had picked up and read the little book her mother had handed her a year or so before. She had presented it to her saying, "This was your Grandmother's. We found it in her things when she died. I thought you might like to have something of hers to remember her by." At the time, the title had captured her curiosity, The Secret Door to Success. " She had put it away when she got home and forgotten about it and about her grandmother, as well, because she had, after all, never known her. Although her mother had only just found the little book again, Amy's grandmother had died many years before.
Months later, as she searched for something in a drawer, "The Secret Door to Success," seemed to shine out at her from among a heap of things. It almost spoke out loud to her and the thought drifted across her mind's horizon, that perhaps she might learn something about the grandmother she had never known. She sat down and started to read it.
It was by a woman named Florence Skovil Shinn and it was wonderfully warm and lively and surprisingly contemporary considering that it was copyrighted 1928. This could be a present-day friend speaking directly to her sitting across from her at the kitchen table where she sat reading.
Ms. Shinn told her to keep her thinking positive by using affirmations and she began immediately to memorize one she found in the book that especially appealed to her. After all, it couldn't hurt and it might actually help. Couldn't come at a better time, if so. She was trying to get up enough courage to go to New York, as she had been advised to do by so many people through the years.
She had only really gotten serious about opera in the past two years and still hadn't had her first job in a leading role, although she had been a paid member of the regional opera chorus where she had lived for several years and she had become a union member. Things had been difficult because she had been so busy earning a living ever since she had left her home in Los Angeles.
She had majored in voice in college and had won several scholarships and awards, and also had plenty of performing time under her belt in high school and college. That seemed to be in another lifetime; she had been finding it harder and harder to imagine winning an audition for a real job in opera as the time slipped by year after year and she felt less and less like a singer and more and more like an office worker.
She sat there and memorized: "God's invincible power sweeps all before it. I ride the waves into my promised land." The author said she should choose affirmations that especially appealed to her and although it sounded a little grand, this one did.
The next time she spoke to her mother on the phone, she told her she had read the little book and her mother`s voice had suddenly smiled through the receiver, "great!"
Her mother shared with her daughter her own experiences with Shinn's books. She had read more of Florence Scovel Shinn's little books after she read the one that had belonged to Amy's grandmother and through the years had continued to use the affirmations in them. Her mother recited the one she had memorized many years ago: "All that is mine by Divine Right is now released and reaches me in great avalanches of abundance under Grace in miraculous ways!" She said it still often echoed through her mind in times of trouble.
Somehow she got up the gumption after that to go to New York. An assistant director at the Metropolitan Opera who had coached a summer session for young opera singers in Portland, Oregon had urged her to. She had placed in the top three at a Metropolitan audition and had competed in the finals, which was why she was offered the chance to take the opera coaching session for free that following summer and she had been greatly encouraged.
She had hardly dared hope that she would ever go to New York and meet people in the opera world, much less coach and audition for producers and directors, and attend Metropolitan performances and do all the other things that she had just finished doing on her first trip to the Big Apple.
She was as tired out by these things as she was by the wind and weather and the oceans of people in the city streets. The rush and noise of it all seemed to lift her up on a cresting wave, washing her right through the elegant brass-framed Plaza doors where it deposited her in the lobby. (It was almost like the words of her affirmation.) It was as if the universe was telling her to come inside where there was quiet and elegance and good food, and where she could pause and reflect in comfort.
Her mother had told her that she had loved the Plaza when she had stayed there while she was in the city. The girl looked around her and decided instantly that she loved it, too.
Then she saw the gift shop, and, still thinking about her mother's endorsement of this beautiful, gracious old place, she drifted to the gift shop. The thought occurred to her that it would be nice to bring home a gift for her mother, and as if in answer to her thought, she noticed a Christmas tree ball displayed elegantly on the counter. It depicted skaters on a pond, and a horse and carriage--apparently at the turn of the century when women's clothes were long and graceful. The background was painted to suggest a cold winter evening. The colors were subdued with only burnt sienna for brightness; all the characters were dressed in earth tones. The little tag attached to it said that the pictures that appeared on the outside of the ball had actually been painted laboriously from inside the glass using an ancient Asian brush technique.
She barely glanced at the little card attached to this lovely glass ball that now lay balanced delicately on her palm. It was love at first sight and she bought it. It seemed almost enchanted and when the clerk put it into its box for her, the enchantment was complete.
It was a red silk box with a latch made of gold silk string drawn over a tiny bamboo shard for a catch. She wouldn't know until she handed this beautiful object to her mother, what coincidences were at work here. An affirmation from Ms. Shinn's book repeated itself over and over in her mind as she left the shop, "I expect the unexpected; My glorious good now comes to pass."
She entered the Oak Room of the Plaza, was immediately seated by the host, and after she sank with a sigh into her chair's soft leather luxury, she began happily reading the items listed on the menu. After she'd ordered, she sat back and allowed her eyes to lazily linger on the beauty and comfort of the sights and sounds of this old New York landmark.
She was finishing her apple pie when a waiter she had noticed waiting on a nearby table just minutes before materialized at her elbow. She knew he was not her waiter and yet, as he began talking to her, something about him seemed almost familiar. She couldn't have said why, though. She decided that he simply seemed timeless.
His opening question made her feel immediately like a special customer. "Are you enjoying your dinner?" When she told him how much she was enjoying herself and how good everything had been, he smiled as if he might be the owner and genuinely glad to hear his quality service praised.
Then he began to tell her about his life, and the wonderful adventure he had had for the past fifty years taking care of the rich and famous who had graced the restaurant in which she now sat. Minutes later she marveled that she was sitting in this lap of luxury listening to this ancient man chatting animatedly about the wonderful people and the wonderful experiences he had known in the years he had spent working for the Plaza.
He pointed to the plaque on the wall that cited his devoted service to the Plaza, and described how it had been dedicated to him in a ceremony presided over by Donald Trump. She felt as if she were talking to an historical landmark.
When she told him she was in the city doing auditions and opera coaching, he told her about escorting Joan Sutherland into the Plaza and about many of the other famous people he had served there--the famous writer who had always occupied the same corner table in the Oak Room where she sat now and about so many others of the accomplished and famous people he had known.
As her new-found friend talked, these illustrious names began to seem to her to be hovering over the place like good fairies, looking down on newcomers to the city like herself and encouraging them to continue to hope and dream-like a great oversoul of earlier creative souls who now rooted for those who came to their city to follow in their footsteps.
And, through it all, she marveled that he should take the time to speak with her. But she felt special because of it.
When she went to the lobby to wait for him to bring back a copy of the "little article" he had written about the Plaza which had been published and which the Plaza now placed in its rooms when it readied them for new guests, her step was lighter and her heart was lighter, too. She had almost given up on him after waiting more than a few minutes.
He appeared finally, article in hand, saying, "I was afraid you had left already and I wanted you to have this." She thanked him and they said goodbye. "When you come back to New York," he called to her, "And you've got a job in opera, I hope I'll see you again." She called back, "Hope so, too!"
The feeling of being special lasted for hours. She still felt the effect when she described this meeting to her mother on the phone later that week. Her mother commented that she felt as if she should write down this remarkable encounter. It seemed special enough to warrant taking notes, somehow. She told her mother that she had a Christmas present from New York for her when her mother and dad came to Portland to visit her for the holidays.
But the holidays came and went and, somehow, the present was forgotten. The ball with the beautiful skaters and the horse and carriage sat inside the little red silk box in darkness, unremembered, keeping its surprising secret for a few more weeks.
She went home to Los Angeles for a friend's wedding and took the present to her mother for her birthday, since Christmas was now long past. She put out the red silk box on a living room table for her mother to open.
Her mother picked it up, unfastened the gold string from the bamboo shard and carefully pulled out the ball with its tiny attached card. "I love it!" she exclaimed. Amy left the room to continue getting ready, as her mother began to read the tiny card. The next minute, her mother shrieked, "Do you know who painted this?! Good grief!" The girl ran back into the room, saying "No, who? What do you mean?"
"This is a copy of a mural painted on the wall in the Oak Bar of the Plaza Hotel by Everett Shinn, one of the famous Ashcan School of painters. Everett Shinn was Florence Scovel Shinn's husband. I can't believe it!
A friend of her mother's who was into all things metaphysical remarked when she heard the story later, that it was almost as if the ghost of Florence Skovil Shinn had walked with the young girl encouraging her at every step, all the way to the Plaza and the little red silk box so that she would receive confirmation of her abilities both metaphysical and musical.