As a child, I will always remember my mom taking me for ice cream at the soda fountain in the old drug store. Around the corner, we would stop by the tailor’s shop to say hello to the owner. As I grew older, I would come to realize that he was one of the greatest men I had ever met. This tailor and fabric cutter was an immigrant who came to America as a young boy sometime around the year 1918. He had never been to high school, let alone college.
His family was so poor he went to work when he was barely a teenager. He took part-time jobs wherever he could and, even after he found full-time employment in a ladies garment factory, he would mend clothes for neighbors and other clients after-hours in the porch area of the family’s duplex apartment. He purchased a secondhand, pedal-driven sewing machine he saved every penny he could. He married, and he and his wife put in very long hours trying to realize their American Dream.
Sometime in the mid-1950s, when I was entering the world, the man and his wife opened a small retail shop in a “new-fangled American invention” called a shopping center. They were fairly successful and they, in turn, were able to help their children realize a dream he could never imagine—he sent them to college.
All of that might have been enough for any person, but the man had a secret passion: he was a voracious reader. In his scarce spare time, on weekends, before sleep or in the early morning while sipping coffee, he read history and philosophy books. He “cleaned out” libraries in his quest to learn more and was, like my stepson Adam, a lover of history books.
He felt that education was a gift and not a privilege and that books were transformative. He could converse on almost any history topic, especially his first love, American history. He particularly enjoyed talking to children about why it was so important for them to study and to gain knowledge. He was known to tutor high school students having trouble in history (for no money, of course) and enjoyed “following them” as they went off to college and beyond.
As he grew older and his health began to fail, he would quietly sit in the apparel shop greeting customers. From time to time, he would still sew on buttons, but mostly he read from thick books that were more the domain of professors and distinguished historians than tailors. He always had a smile on his face.
Ripples in a Pond
I talked about icebergs in my book Hide Your Goat. Why icebergs? I noted that only about one-ninth of an iceberg is above water. We know almost nothing about the shape of the iceberg below the surface. All of us have a portion of ourselves deep below the surface that we keep hidden from the world.
To most people, the man I described above was a simple tailor who sat at a bench and mended overcoats. When he and his wife became more successful, he was just seen as a man who helped customers pick out a new suit or tie. What they didn’t see was the heart and soul of a scholar who shared his scholarly gifts.
Did he become a world famous historian? An author of history books? A noted American history expert? No, he did not. However, that is not the point. The tailor-turned-shopkeeper had an entire life that was kept mostly hidden until someone had a child who needed tutoring. He lived his passion and his joy. His passion made ripples in this huge pond we call “life.”
What is Below the Surface?
Your hidden talents, passions, avocations and hobbies are much more valuable than you think. They hold the key to greater happiness, prosperity and inner peace. Are you nurturing those talents? Are you keeping them alive? If nine-tenths of who you are resides below the surface, imagine for a second what it would be like if you allowed those talents to flourish.
Life is not always easy, but we each have it within ourselves to be happy no matter what our age or circumstance. Most people will live their lives above the water line without ever challenging their habits, assumptions or understandings. It’s time to go beneath the waterline and reveal your hidden gifts below the iceberg.