“True friendship is the greatest gift you can give. “
The box was the square, brown, cardboard variety that regularly hatches small bits of electronics, pottery tools and paperbacks at our house. On top was an envelope that said, “Open this second.”
Colleen had the conspiratorial look in her eye that always told me she knew something I didn’t and was enjoying every minute of it.
The box turned out to reveal another box, this one smaller and darker, which, in turn produced a third wooden box, carefully wrapped in white tissue paper with a golden foil logo on it that said, “Shinola“.
I knew then what was inside. Or so I thought. Shinola is the resurrection of a classic American brand that is creating products and jobs in a city that is, itself, in reinvention. Among Shinola’s carefully limited product line are wristwatches. They are assembled in Detroit by people who craft the tiny springs and gears into a pulsating harmonious whole, symbolic of the Motor City’s past, present and future.
Shinola makes one that is just my style, a Green face with big White numbers, a silver case and a light brown leather strap. Perfect for any occasion in a Spartan Life. While many Shinola timepieces have been sold, they are still rare enough that the people who have them feel a special camaraderie. Wearing a Shinola watch is a statement: I believe in Detroit, our state and the resiliency that has always defined us. Wearing the Green and White version tells the world that you are a Spartan who intends be a contributor to Michigan’s renaissance, and not a spectator.
Colleen handed me the “open me second” envelope, a card signed by 17 people who have inspired me, stretched me and have made my special calling richly rewarding. Each of them had helped crowd-fund this singular gift.
I put the watch on my right wrist and thought about the adventures we shared. Some of the names on the card I have known since the day they were born. Others were friendships bonded as a result of my work. All held a special place in my heart.
When I look at the watch, I see a six year old drawing a weather map on a chalkboard, now fully blooming as a senior executive in a company he helped shape. I see the excitement in the eyes of teachers sharing the treasures of their experience so that others might see what they have seen and know what they have known. I see young people wrestling with the sometimes painful twists and turns that come from playing the cards you are dealt as best as you can, entrepreneurs who turn ethereal conceptuality into profitable reality while walking well beyond their comfort zones, and generous souls who feel the fear and chase their dreams anyway – challenging long held paradigms in the process. I see couples forging lifelong partnerships, adventurers who can live out of a suitcase and ply their passion wherever opportunity may exist. I see authors, educators, evangelists, executives, public servants, and parents. People for whom the next steps are sure and less confident individuals who are still in pursuit of their life’s purpose.
And I realized that the greatest gift these 17 people had given me is not what is ticking on my wrist. It’s the privilege of sharing their journeys, with all their imperfection, uncertainty and anticipation.
The world sees most of us in costume. These exceptional people chose to let me see their authentic selves and allowed me access to their hearts and minds in their most vulnerable moments. These are the most valuable, fragile and intensely personal gifts a person can give.
I turned the watch toward the west, capturing the setting sun in its crystal, reflecting the dancing light on the pictures of my family that sit on our fireplace mantle.
This is our assignment: Reflect the positive energy you receive in the direction of those who need it most. In time, it will invariably multiply and further enrich others.
And if you’re lucky, you will be allowed to witness it.
This is karma, the law of cause and effect in action.
If you decide to walk this path, you will discover that your best moments are not about you at all. They reveal themselves in the act of giving your time, talent and treasure.
People who don’t know the backstory will admire my watch for its colors. Some may recognize its symbolism, representing what a struggling city can become. When I look at it I will think about the 17 extraordinary souls who let me come along for the ride, where we have traveled and what we have become in the process.
Most of all, I will feel gratitude.. gratitude for the gift of friendship that they have given me and gratitude for the journey we will continue to share.. together.