-by Rick Sanger, owner of ShiroBliss LLC
“Problems are opportunities,” they say. Perhaps it is true, because the “opportunities” for learning presented by developing the ShiroBliss machine have led me deeper into my own community – and to meeting people who have been real gifts in my life. So when I found out that Dave had cancer, it really saddened my heart. I met Dave two years ago looking for help with the metalwork I was handcrafting for the Shirobliss. Dave owns a wrought iron shop in Grass Valley, California. Just a couple miles from my home. The day I visited him for the first time, I stepped over some scrap metal and shielded my eyes from an arc welder as I made my way toward the open bay of his shop. It was the kind of place where you meet men with hard-used hands wearing blue stained coveralls. Guys who have seen it all. Guys who over the years have learned their trade the hard way – by doing it over and over. Guys who chuckle when they see the ways the rest of us have messed up in trying to do what they do so well. So I steeled myself, ready for the “nice try but better leave that to the professionals” kind of advice.
The bowl I was carrying caught Dave’s attention right away… a shirodhara bowl with a copper tube soldered into a hole in the center. As I approached him he continued to stare at it and casually said, “now that’s unusual.” I handed it to him and started to explain what it was for and why I made it like I made it. His employee put down a grinder and came over to join us and have a look. Dave’s lips were tight and drawn, and he just kept turning the bowl over and over until I ran out of things to say. I had no idea what was going through his mind… was he formulating a list of how he could do it better? I certainly hoped so, cause I knew a REAL metal worker would have many ways to improve what I had tried to do.
He kept looking at the bowl – examining it from every angle. I stayed silent as long as I could (that’s hard!) and finally offered to show him some other parts that I’d brought with me. The suggestion raised him a little from his quasi- trance. We walked over to my car and I showed him the ShiroBliss and handed him an early version of the armature. That’s when he finally looked at me. He looked at me as if to say “now just stop.” With the bowl in one hand and the armature in the other, he looked at me through the smallest openings of his eyelids… and spoke very slowly. It was like there was something big that needed to come out. He looked at me in a way that held me in place – to get me to… Listen. Very. Carefully.
“Some things are done for money…” he was taking his time choosing his words. “…and then there is something like this.” Time slowed a little. “This.” He looked at the parts in his hands. “The level of creativity, of skill, of attention… I couldn’t find someone…” He looked at me again. “You built this with a vision of the smile of a satisfied customer. You built this knowing the effect it would have on the person receiving the oil treatment. You can’t buy something like this. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
… I was completely unprepared for his words… and a little stunned. I didn’t know what to say. He kept talking and I realized that he was trying to tell me something profound and meaningful. Trying to teach me something. And it was just the something that I had been struggling with over the past few months in the whole process of creating the machine – but didn’t know it. He was talking about value – about valuing myself and my work because I value the customer. Suddenly, he was the mentor. The master teaching the student something that the student didn’t even know he needed to learn.
Of course this endeared me to the man! Whenever I deliver parts for him to craft, I try to learn a little more about him.
Most recently, I was working with him well after closing. His employee hadn’t been able to finish the parts I needed on time – so Dave was going to take up the slack. I was concerned. Just a few days earlier, because of his chemotherapy treatment, he could hardly finish 3 slow sentences before having to wait out pain surges. And he was going to work, I asked myself?! But Dave loves his work, and despite being over 70 years old, he can’t stand not to be there. He says it keeps him going.
I sat with him that night, handing him tools. I talked with him, asking questions about life and about cancer. He told me that he was amazed and grateful at how his sickness had brought his kids and step kids together – how his big family had been united like never before. He said, quite seriously, “If all it took for to happen this was a little pain, than it was worth it.”
I let out a disbelieving shout – put my hand on his shoulder and with mixed amazement, incredulity and amusement, proclaimed “Spoken like a true father!!” But to myself I was thinking… “Spoken like a saint.”