A Sparrow In A Coffee Shop

I have gained much wisdom and felt much love from followers of many religions, traditions, and faiths. While religions can unite, sadly they can also divide, as a great many bloody religious wars have proven. For that reason, I hesitate to post things that are very religious.

I want this site to be a uniter and not a divider, and for it to embody all the best that religions, traditons, creeds, and faiths have to offer. To celebrate and on focus on those shared positive attributes. For I believe that the places where they overlap are likely to be where their greatest wisdom will be found, and the key to a bright future for all of humanity.

Sometimes, however, I come across a story that touches me so deeply that I just feel compelled to share it. The one below falls into that category. Perhaps it is because My Beloved and I came very close to losing our daughter to an “incurable” illness at about the same as the daughter mentioned in the story. I had tears in my eyes when I read this story, and wanted to be able to reach out and hug this woman.

P.S. For clarity, when I mentioned a religious focus in this story, I was NOT refering to Starbucks, though I understand that for many their caffeine intake may feel like a religious experience, complete with traditions and euphoria. ;-D!

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10.26.2012: A Sparrow “Funny”

The song that silenced the cappuccino machine

By John thomas Oaks

It was chilly in Manhattan but warm inside the Starbucks shop on 51st Street and Broadway, just a skip up from Times Square. Early November weather in New York City holds only the slightest hint of the bitter chill of late December and January, but it’s enough to send the masses crowding indoors to vie for available space and warmth.

For a musician, it’s the most lucrative Starbucks location in the world, I’m told, and consequently, the tips can be substantial if you play your tunes right. Apparently, we were striking all the right chords that night, because our basket was almost overflowing.

It was a fun, low-pressure gig – I was playing keyboard and singing backup for my friend who also added rhythm with an arsenal of percussion instruments. We mostly did pop songs from the ’40s to the ’90s with a few original tunes thrown in. During our emotional rendition of the classic, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” I noticed a lady sitting in one of the lounge chairs across from me. She was swaying to the beat and singing along.

After the tune was over, she approached me. “I apologize for singing along on that song. Did it bother you?” she asked.

“No,” I replied. “We love it when the audience joins in. Would you like to sing up front on the next selection?”

To my delight, she accepted my invitation.

“You choose,” I said. “What are you in the mood to sing?”

“Well … do you know any hymns?”

Hymns? This woman didn’t know who she was dealing with. I cut my teeth on hymns. Before I was even born, I was going to church. I gave our guest singer a knowing look. “Name one.”

“Oh, I don’t know. There are so many good ones. You pick one.”

“Okay,” I replied. “How about ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’?”

My new friend was silent, her eyes averted. Then she fixed her eyes on mine again and said, “Yeah. Let’s do that one.”

She slowly nodded her head, put down her purse, straightened her jacket and faced the center of the shop. With my two-bar setup, she began to sing.

“Why should I be discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?”

The audience of coffee drinkers was transfixed. Even the gurgling noises of the cappuccino machine ceased as the employees stopped what they were doing to listen. The song rose to its conclusion.

“I sing because I’m happy;
I sing because I’m free.
For His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.”


When the last note was sung, the applause crescendoed to a deafening roar that would have rivaled a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall. Embarrassed, the woman tried to shout over the din, “Oh, y’all go back to your coffee! I didn’t come in here to do a concert! I just came in here to get somethin’ to drink, just like you!”

But the ovation continued. I embraced my new friend. “You, my dear, have made my whole year! That was beautiful!”

“Well, it’s funny that you picked that particular hymn,” she said.

“Why is that?”

“Well…” she hesitated again, “that was my daughter’s favorite song.”

“Really!” I exclaimed.

“Yes,” she said, and then grabbed my hands. By this time, the applause had subsided and it was business as usual. “She was 16. She died of a brain tumor last week.”

I said the first thing that found its way through my stunned silence.

“Are you going to be okay?”

She smiled through tear-filled eyes and squeezed my hands. “I’m gonna be okay. I’ve just got to keep trusting the Lord and singing his songs, and everything’s gonna be just fine.”

She picked up her bag, gave me her card, and then she was gone.

Was it just a coincidence that we happened to be singing in that particular coffee shop on that particular November night? Coincidence that this wonderful lady just happened to walk into that particular shop? Coincidence that of all the hymns to choose from, I just happened to pick the very hymn that was the favorite of her daughter, who had died just the week before? I refuse to believe it.

God has been arranging encounters in human history since the beginning of time, and it’s no stretch for me to imagine that he could reach into a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan and turn an ordinary gig into a revival. It was a great reminder that if we keep trusting him and singing his songs, everything’s gonna be okay.

Copyright 2001 John thomas Oaks. Permission is granted to send this to others, with attribution, but not for commercial purposes.


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About russtowne

I'm awed by the beauty of nature and the power of love and gratitude. Some of my favorite sensory experiences include waves crashing on rocky shores, waterways in ancient redwood and fern-filled forests, and rain. My wife and I have been married since 1979. We have 3 adult children and 5 grandchildren. I manage a wealth management firm that I founded in 2003. My Beloved is a Special Education teacher for Kindergartners and First Graders. I'm a published author of approximately 60 books in a variety of genres for grownups and children.
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18 Responses to A Sparrow In A Coffee Shop

  1. Professions for PEACE says:

    Thank you for sharing this amazingly touching story. And for your honesty about having a reluctance to share things that are overly religious. I know that feeling and have acknowledged that I’ve sadly lost followers after a post that quoted the Bible or used the word ‘God’ instead of more secular terms like ‘the Universe’ or such. Or lost Christian followers when I shared about Native American Spirituality for example. So I am thankful for people like you who know I am more spiritual than religious, but am not resistant to the word God, and will admit I read the Bible.
    I appreciate how you are a uniter not a divider and I thank you deeply for your inspiring and delightful blog. Keep up the great posts Russ! You are making a wonderful difference.
    With warm gratitude, Gina

    • russtowne says:

      What a wonderfully kind and gracious comment! Thank you! Your spirit is warm and wonderul and I’m glad that you have become an important part of my life. Though on the surface it may appear that we’ve not yet met beyond words on a screen, I know better. Your spirit transcends time and space, and your love, kindness, and compassion can be felt thousands of miles away.

      Thank you!


    • russtowne says:

      Thank you for sharing your reaction to the story. I believe such a reaction is your spirit and body overflowing with joy at the connection you experience with the people in the story. Such powerful connections often overwhelm our systems and manifest themselves in goose bumps, happy tears, warmed hearts, huge smiles, and/or desire to hug or show kindness toward someone. I believe any of these are a sign of a healthy spirit and a loving heart. And what could be better than that, except perhaps to also be surrounded by people with healthy spirits and loving hearts?


  2. It’s a beautiful story Russ… Regarding ‘religious’ postings. When I personally took up blogging I felt that I was led to do so because I had been praying about doing ‘something’ for God. And then the idea of blogging came to mind. So I openly blog about Him and my faith.

    Having said that when I do, I realize there will be those that I regularly blog with that probably won’t get much out of the blogs related to God. There are those that I blog with who are atheists and sometimes when I’m doing a ‘religious’ blog I know that it may turn them off a bit. But they are honest about what they believe and so it’s okay if they don’t read those ones.

    When I blog about ‘other’ than my faith I realize that some of the Christians that follow my blog will not really enjoy these ones. It’s definitely a conundrum but I write what I feel and that’s all I can do.

    AndI respect your point of view not to bring religion into yours…for the reasons that you stated…Diane

  3. A Dog With Fleas says:

    This was a beautiful post, irregardless of religious affiliation. It is a story of love, faith and spirituality that anyone can connect to. I do not believe in coincidences, and that woman and singer were brought there to make that connection. It was a very powerful lesson and shows that we are meant to have certain people brought into our lives the exact moment we need them..

  4. Rad change says:

    I love this! It gives me shivers! God truly works in amazing ways and in unlikely situations. What an inspiration!

  5. mindfuldiary says:

    This story is powerful beyond measures.

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