One of the most memorable poems I've ever read was written by a 15-year-old girl from Brooklyn, N.Y., named Fidencia Solomon.
It's called "Looking for Change," a theme that resonates with many of us. The story of how Fidencia's poem came to be written—and published in Seventeen magazine 20 years ago—shows that when you set out to improve someone's life, your own life changes in ways you'd never expect.
I met Fidencia in New York City in 1988, when I was a writer for Fortune magazine. I wanted to mentor a student with writing talent, so I called the city's Department of Education. And with that a remarkable new friend entered my life.
A hopeless romantic, Fidencia talked a lot about boys. Every week she'd come to my office, where we'd work and do fun stuff—I took her to the Central Park Zoo and the Museum of Modern Art (she loved Warhol). And I arranged for a tour of Seventeen, where a young editor encouraged Fidencia to submit a poem. "Write about what you know," I told her. That meant romance—but how to make it fresh? One day as she was leaving, Fidencia complained about all the junk in her coat pockets. "There's your theme," I said. "Everyone can relate to dirty pockets." I left it to her to link it to love. A few months later her poem appeared in the July 1989 issue of Seventeen.
Shortly after that, Fortune sent me to Los Angeles. Fidencia and her mom soon visited (first stop: Marilyn Monroe's grave). When I moved back East, we'd meet for lunch. Today we use e-mail. We had breakfast recently in Manhattan, at the Tick Tock Diner. The 15-year-old girl has blossomed into a beautiful 35-year-old woman, with the same devilish sense of humor. She studies Russian and writes short stories. When I asked Fidencia what she finds most memorable about our time together, she replied, "That we are still in touch."
Just a few months ago Fidencia received an e-mail from a woman named Lisa who had come across her poem in an old box, saved since she was a teenager. Lisa had read the poem daily, she said. "I remember thinking that the author of this poem had expressed everything in my heart in a simple and brilliant way." It was signed, "Found change, and also a poem that at the time was a lifeline."
If the idea of helping new friends intrigues you, check out "The New Patriotism," and createthegood.org. Both offer lots of fun ways to lend a hand. And keep in mind what I learned from Fidencia: that from kindness comes serendipity—one of service's sweetest gifts of all.
Nancy Perry Graham
Editor, AARP The Magazine
601 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20049
"Looking for Change"
I run into a phone booth,
digging through my coat pockets
for some change.
Instead I pull out
a handful of old gum wrappers
and a stale Hershey bar
that I never got around to eating.
Three unemployed hairpins
that once kept the hair off my face.
A note I meant to send
to my best friend,
unopened ketchup packets
from recent binges at Mickey D's.
A shiny gold locket
with a broken clasp
…and a broken heart.…
I find a tissue to wipe away
a single tear
running down my cheek,
and still no change.
— Fidencia Solomon, age 15, Brooklyn, N.Y.