“The greatest gift you can give the world is not what you say or do, but who you are.”
David’s knee quietly kept pace with the thousand thoughts that raced through his mind as he watched the door. Each breath recharged the nervous energy that filled him and found it’s only outlet in the restless bounce of his right leg.
He forced himself to pull his eyes away from the entrance and looked around the room for the first time since he had been seated. Slate stone pillars stretched up to the ceiling like great book stacks. Large windows arched around half the room, allowing warm sunlight to fill the room. Wood and brushed metal accented the bright orange walls and gave the room the relaxed feel of a beach-side café.
David turned to see William Cooper standing with a hand on the back of the chair opposite him. He looked so common in person. Not one person in the restaurant turned to take a closer look at a man with loose brown hair that was only a shade darker than his eyes. David had half-expected a fancy suit and Rolex, but William wore jeans. Three colored rubber bands wrapped around his wrists beneath the rolled up sleeves of his light blue shirt.
“Oh. Mr. Cooper. I, uh… You’re here. Please, have a seat.”
David wanted desperately to extend a hand to his hero, but was caught by uncertainty as well as a fear of having sweaty hands.
“I just want to tell you thank you so much for meeting with me. To be honest, when I wrote that letter I didn’t expect to get a response.”
William smiled lightly as he placed a cloth napkin across his lap.
“I get quite a few letters each year. Most of them are asking for endorsements or money. The rest are usually requests for interviews or appearances. It is rare to receive a letter from someone who is ready to hear what I have to say.”
That simple statement ignited a tug-of-war between fear and excitement inside David. What made William Cooper think that he was anything special? Would he share his secret to success with someone he had never met?
Once they placed their orders, William initiated some small talk. His attention never wavered as David talked about his life. David was surprised by how genuinely interested he was in the small details of his life.
The food arrived and provided a natural stopping point. David picked up his fork and stirred the sauce into his penne. He was about to ask a question when he looked up to see his hero mouthing a silent prayer with a bowed head.
An audible “Amen” snapped his hero back into the jovial mood David had seen before. The moment of silence gave David an opportunity to reflect on the stark difference between the two moods. He realized how effortless and enjoyable it had been to share with a man who, up until about fifteen minutes ago, had been a complete stranger.
“Can I ask you a question Mr. Cooper?”
“Only if you call me William.”
David had dreamed of being on a first name basis with William Cooper for a long time and shoveled a bite into his mouth to savor the moment.
William’s eyes smiled at the corners.
“Your letter was about me, but it revealed something about you. There was a question hovering just beneath the surface of everything you said.”
David nodded even though he had no idea what that question might be. He reached for his glass and took a sip of water to stall. William seemed to see right through the ploy and laughed.
“Don’t worry. This is not a test. It just seemed to me that you were asking yourself if you could do what I have done.”
It was a simple statement, but David felt as though it needed an answer.
“Yes. I do. I think most people do.”
He looked off to the side as he tried to think of the best way to explain.
“I think most people want a secret that will make them rich or powerful or just happy. But there is no secret. It takes work and dedication. That’s why I rarely give interviews and have kept fairly private. People try to turn what I say into formula that will magically make them successful. It is rare to find someone who wants to know if they already have it inside them.”
David felt like his brain had just been hit with a sledgehammer of truth. Everything William said locked into the puzzle of his life like pieces that had been missing the whole time.
“I don’t know if it’s pride, but I feel like I have it in me to be truly successful and it’s kind of frustrating that I am not there yet.”
William bobbed his head in a knowing nod.
“Believing you are capable of something is the most important ingredient. It is the foundation that success is built on.”
David became consumed in the conversation and forgot about his food entirely.
“That’s awesome, but I feel like I have had the foundation forever and I haven’t been able to build much on it. How did you get past step one?”
William looked down and began playing with the three rubber bands on his left wrist. He seemed torn between his efforts to reach out and help someone and his desire for privacy. David could see the decision had been made when he looked up again.
“I will tell you what I have done, but I want to make sure you understand. This is not a formula. It’s the way I have chosen to go, but it is not the only way.”
David simply nodded.
“I became my own boss. I demanded that I do three things every day and would not accept a single excuse for not accomplishing each one.”
“What were they?”
“You mean what are they? Success is not the end of work and it definitely is not the end of growing.”
William stretched out the rubber bands on his wrist with a finger.
“I demanded of myself one thing every day that would benefit my body, mind, and soul. I will not go to sleep until I have done all three. And it can’t be incidental. It does not count unless it is purposeful on my part. I use these rubber bands to remind me and keep track. When I do something for my mind I move the red one to my right wrist, the brown one is for my body, and the white for my soul. The first thing I do each morning is move these back to my left wrist.”
“Wow. That’s awesome. But I don’t understand how doing that helped you become rich.”
William let go of the rubber bands and the warm smile that he seemed to always wear returned to his face.
“Well, I didn’t set out to become rich. I just wanted to become a better man. Did you know that only one out of about every hundred acorns has the potential to become a tree? You can never tell by looking at them, which ones will grow and which won’t. It’s the same with our actions in life, good or bad. We never know which ones will have a great effect. That was the first thing I learned when I started this. So I decided that the best way grow good trees is to plant more good seeds.”
David rubbed the stubble on his chin as he thought about it for a moment.
“That’s cool. But I gotta be honest. It doesn’t add up. You planted body, mind, and soul seeds and grew a money tree.”
William laughed and shook his head.
“That’s the second thing I learned. When you plant an acorn it does not grow out of the ground looking like a giant acorn. What grows does not always look like what you plant. If you plant seeds in your intellect, you may reap benefits in your finances. But if it continues to grow, it will eventually develop seeds like the one it came from.”
“So that’s it? That’s what you did to get where you are?”
The smile on William’s face dimmed a fraction as he took a deep breath through his nose and exhaled slowly.
“I told you, there is no magic formula. There is more than one way. But, yes, this is what I did.”
“Thank you for sharing that with me. It’s amazing. I know that you said there is more than one way, but would you mind if I began doing the same thing?”
The full force of William’s smile returned instantly.
“Not at all. As long as you are not afraid to abandon it and try your own way if you find one that suits you better.”
William slid his chair out and stood up.
“Unfortunately, I must be going. But it was a pleasure meeting you. I will look for your next letter with great anticipation. I have taken care of the meal, but you may still order dessert if you would like.”
David stood and dismissing his fears extended his hand.
“Thank you again. I don’t know how I could ever repay you.”
William stepped around the table and used David’s hand to pull him into a quick hug. When they pulled back he held his hand for just a moment longer.
“Become the best man you can be. That is the best gift you can give.”
David locked eyes with his hero for the last time.
William released his grip and turned to leave. As he was walking out David saw him pull off the white rubber band and place it on his right wrist.
Copyright © 2012 Adam Drake
Author’s Note: I am actually going to do this!