My wife managed to completely surprise – and humble and inspire – me with what she presented me as my birthday gift. She is one of the most creative and smart people on the planet today, and her gesture proved no exception.
At the end of a busy day and some fun birthday revelry, she handed me a large blue bag, tied at the top with a gold ribbon. I had no idea what to expect. I had specifically asked her not to buy me anything, and she encouraged all our friends to donate to various causes rather than give gifts this year. So the large bag was a complete mystery to me. “It’s not anything new” she explained. Her statement was only somewhat true.
Inside the bag was a beautiful patchwork quilt, criss-crossed in blue and white fabric that was somehow familiar. I didn’t recognize the textiles at first, but then her words solved the mystery. “You’ve been heading off to work for more than a decade in a suit and dress shirts. They’re like a uniform for you, and they represent how hard you work and how much time and energy you invest into what you do. I realize it and appreciate you for that- and I hope this quilt will remind you of it.”
There are few moments that leave a talkative, big-mouth person speechless. This was one of them. I didn’t know what to say. She had been saving each of the shirts that I had been forced to retire (grew out of, tore, cut myself shaving and bled on, had a pen leak into, etc.) over the last decade. And indeed each of these shirts tells a story. I’d never thought of them as my uniform, but therein was the big lesson for me.
Everyone’s work adds up to something special. Day in, day out, we all try to do our best at achieving something. Perhaps we don’t wear the recognizable uniforms of a doctor, police officer, or a member of the military, but each of us is working to achieve something, whether at work or in our community or in our homes.
The quilt has me thinking not only about what I am trying to achieve, but to look with more respect at the sum of the day-in, day-out contributions of those around me. The successes and failures, the commutes and conquests and comedies – all come together in a patchwork of accomplishment. And often it takes someone from the outside to remind you of how good it looks when it’s all quilted together.