78: The Carpenter’s Gift

78: The Carpenter’s Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

The Carpenter’s Gift

He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

~Louis Nizer

I often wonder if people look down on me because I’m a construction worker. Sometimes, when I’m around white-collar professionals, I clench my rough, calloused hands and fold them into my side. In those moments I struggle with the question of who I am.

I didn’t always think I’d be a carpenter. I can still hear my mom saying, when I was eighteen years old, “Now Scott, you really should be going to college like the other guys. You always said you wanted to be a doctor.”

I’m not a doctor, but on a snowy Christmas Eve a few years back—at a children’s hospital in Michigan—an encounter with a family reminded me that even though I never became a doctor, I know exactly who I am.

That Christmas Eve, I entered little Mia’s ICU room. The ten-month-old girl had been born with a serious heart defect. Her family looked up. Wendy, Mia’s mom, introduced me to Mia’s grandma and grandpa.

“Is he the doctor?” said Grandpa from his wheelchair.

“No, Dad,” said Wendy.

“Is he the nurse?” the white-bearded man asked.

“No,” Wendy said.

The grandfather, throwing his hands up, said with a bit of senior citizen confidence, “Well then, surely he must be the respiratory therapist.”

“No, Dad. He’s the carpenter.”

Without hesitation, the old guy looked up at me and said, “This hospital is great! They even have a carpenter working here.” I nodded and then he asked, “Are you making something special for Mia, something to help her get better?”

Realizing he must have figured that I was making her a piece of medical equipment, I didn’t know what to say. Before I could say a word, Wendy grabbed a shoebox-sized mahogany box from the windowsill. She walked over to her dad and placed it in his lap.

“Dad, Scott made this for Mia. It’s a memory box.”

Mia’s memory box is just one of many that I’ve made for sick kids over the years since my son Evan passed away. When Evan was alive, our family spent many months at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. Evan is the reason I now give back.

Sometimes I take the tools of my trade up to the floor and help young patients build things—a very cool experience. One of the terminally ill boys who I worked with died a couple of months back. His mom told me how much she cherishes the oak laptop desk her son created.

When I decided not to go to college and, instead, ride to work every day in my dad’s rusting truck as a carpenter’s apprentice, I never thought I would use my carpentry skills this way.

Mia’s grandfather smiled as he opened the lid of the polished mahogany box and inspected its inner lining of silver cloth. He opened and closed the small sliding drawer. He looked up at me with a look I’ll never forget and a smile on his face.

I smiled, too.

After leaving Mia’s family, I went home, loving the gift they gave me: a clearer picture of who I am.

~Scott Newport

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