Wednesday, January 10, 2007

From Here To Singapore With A Story

Tomorrow morning will come early – a 4 a.m. shuttle that begins the long ride to Singapore. It is still hard to believe that one day you are walking your dog and 24 hours later you are on the other side of the world talking to people about challenges that neither of you really understand. But perhaps they are related.

Max, the German Shepherd, and I went into town today and stopped at a coffee shop that we have frequented since he took me as his owner.

“I’m sorry. We no longer permit dogs,” said Juan, the owner, hastening to add, “But you can tie him up outside and come in.”

I thought for a second, maybe less.

“No, Juan. If Max is not welcome, then I am not welcome.”

Juan looked sad but said nothing.

I walked further down the street.

“Café” is all the sign said. I hesitated but walked in, Max in tow.

“Excuse me,” I said nodding toward Max, “but do you accept dogs here?”

The young Mexican smiled and replied, “I love dogs. I have a German Shepherd, too. Come on in. Let’s talk.”

We spoke of our dogs over coffee for half an hour or more while Max had a butter croissant, which he later told me he enjoyed very much.

“Thank you,” I offered sincerely.

He nodded but said nothing. When he returned with my change, I left it in the copper vessel along with a note sent to me last week by a friend in Texas, a note I was carrying for no good or apparent reason until today when the reason became altogether clear. The note read:

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.

He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years. He wondered where the road was leading them.

After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight.

When he was standing before it he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side

When he was close enough, he called out, "Excuse me, where are we?"

"This is Heaven, sir," the man answered.

"Wow! Would you happen to have some water?" the man asked.

"Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up."

The man gestured, and the gate began to open.

"Can my friend," gesturing toward his dog, "come in, too?" the traveler asked.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets."

The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog.

After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence.

As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.

"Excuse me!" he called to the man. "Do you have any water?"

"Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there, come on in."

"How about my friend here?" the traveler gestured to the dog.

"There should be a bowl by the pump."

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it.

The traveler filled the water bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog.

When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree.

"What do you call this place?" the traveler asked.

"This is Heaven," he answered.

"Well, that's confusing," the traveler said. "The man down the road said that was Heaven, too."

"Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's hell."

"Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?"

"No, we're just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind."

I would like to return to that coffee shop tomorrow morning, but as I mentioned, it is time for me to work. Tomorrow I will spend a little time in Mexico, Texas, Tokyo, and Singapore, a trip whose genesis is to share the little I know about corporate America with those who know nothing about the way business is done on the other side of the world. And I admit without embarrassment that I feel I have little to offer. Perhaps the best I might do is to share this story as a metaphor that in business, as in one’s personal life, there is nothing more important than others, our relationships that we develop, treasure, and yes, even defend.


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