Treatment #2. Has someone ever asked you a simple question that caused a time of deeper reflection?
Monday was my second treatment for this round of chemotherapy.
I was glad to be back at my familiar office in Kennett Square. It is much quieter than some of the other places I have received treatment.
There are small signs that the treatment is working. Rashes and other such side effects that have historically shown up when the chemotherapy has been effective at pushing back the cancer are starting to reappear. It is way too early to draw any conclusions, but these simple signs give me hope.
A simple Question
Has someone ever asked you a simple question that caused you a time of deeper reflection?
It happened to me last weekend.
A good friend and I were working in my shop. We are taking an old piano and turning it into a case for the electric keyboard at church.
As we were putting the finishing touches on the piano cabinet, he asked, “How did you ever get interested in woodworking?”
It was a fascinating question. I found myself talking about Mr. Miller.
It was my senior year of high school. I needed to fill some open space in my daily schedule. I opted to take basic woodworking and then cabinet-making.
The plan was to fill my schedule with a couple of classes with limited reading, study, or work required.
Looking back, my thinking was severely flawed. It showed very little respect for my fellow students who were making vocational training the focus of their education.
Fall semester of senior year, I took my first stroll down the hallway into the shop and vo-tech world.
Mr. Miller sniffed out my plan very early on. I had shown no interest in any of his classes until my senior year. Something was obviously not right.
The fall semester went well. As part of basic woodworking, I made the obligatory bookshelf and used the lathe to make a bowl that I still have today.
I still remember the first few days of cabinet-making during the spring semester. We had to present plans for the single project that would be the focus of our work for the entire semester. The project had to demonstrate a mastery of different joints and cabinet making skills.
It was spring. The weather would soon be nice, and I had plans to be outside. I designed a trunk: four square sides, nice plywood bottom, and a flat top. Four flat pieces of wood all glued up, cut to size, using different joints to show my abilities. Something easily accomplished during class time.
I took my plan to Mr. Miller. He looked at it and smiled.
I like it, I think we should make one small change. Let’s design a round top for this trunk.
I suggested I would find a new project. Mr. Miller would have none of it. My project was going to be a trunk with a rounded top.
The Project that Would Not EndThe basic case came together in less than a week. The rounded top took forever. With each strip, I had to measure the unique angle and figure out how to make it fit.
I spent countless extra hours in the shop. Study halls, after school, lunch periods, any time I could find to grab a few minutes to fight the angles and work to make the rounded top work.
Mr. Miller would often come over and give bits of wisdom or insight and then smile as he walked away. My struggles brought him a sense of joy.
I finally got the round top completed and was ready to call it complete. Mr. Miller stopped over to look at it.
Dan, you know what this thing really needs are some metal brackets to go over the screws. Come back tomorrow after school and I will introduce you to the metal shop teacher and he will help you make those.
Once again, my protests fell upon deaf ears. I was introduced to the metal shop. John Mohler was working on a set of kettle drums while I was being taught how to bend metal for the top of my trunk.
Metal brackets attached I was finished.
Dan, to finish this off right you need to get some leather so we can wrap the corners. While you are at it go to this store and find a really nice set of hinges.
I finally completed the trunk days before the semester was over.
I still have it today.
Mr. Miller’s Lessons
A few years ago, I ran into Mr. Miller. He was in Dunkin Donuts as I was on my way to visit mom and dad.
I thanked him for that year.
Mr. Miller taught me that easy is not always right. He instilled inside me a love for creating something of beauty out of nothing.
I hold him partially responsible for the large number of tools that have found their way into my shop over the years.
Most importantly, he taught me what it was to come alongside someone and see their potential. To see beyond what people see in themselves and then help them unleash their gifts and abilites.
May we move through this world with the eyes of Mr. Miller…seeing people for what they could be, not for what they first appear to be.
On graduation day, as they were handing out awards, I was half paying attention. There was no expectation that anyone would call my name.
Suddenly people around me started poking me. Hey, go up and get your award!
I won the award for the best project in cabinetmaking. Mr. Miller presented me with the award.
A young, self-focused me accepted the award and promptly went out and bought $100 worth of pizza that night. [The award was $100]
An older, wiser me would have said,
This should be a shared award. Shared by myself and the one who helped me see beyond the easy way out and helped me discover abilities I did not know I had. Thank you, Mr. Miller.
Bob Smith says
Great story. I had a math teacher give me a C in my first quarter. (I actually had a B average.) I was angry. Her response was that I wasn’t taking her class seriously enough. I showed her. I got A’s the next 3 quarters. During my last day of class, she said to me, “I knew you could do better.” By gosh she was right!!
Beautifully written and expressed appreciation for lessons from a teacher learned way back when. Staying committed to improving one’s work is something we all need to reflect on—Am I doing it the same old way, or is there an improved way to grow into? Your chest is a great symbol of improvement work! Thanks for sharing!