There’s a piano recital. Everyone is quiet in the vast auditorium. Nervous little bodies file to their seats, in anticipation and dread. The playing begins. Eyes focus on fingers and ivory, ears on tempo and tone. Sometimes the music is congenial and welcoming, other times like watching “Rambo” in a pas de deux. Still other moments it seems to have a hold on the person as it rolls off their fingertips. As these young musicians go beyond technical finesse they enter another arena. They are gifted.
Talented and gifted programs in our schools are implemented in fits and starts. Being smart is something we have little to say about – either we have the beans upstairs or we don’t. Intelligence is not just bringing home good grades in Miss Jones’ Algebra class or skill in verbal combat at social affairs. How many of us college graduate types have tried to face down the mysteries of an automobile engine in our backyard only to strategically retreat to the nearest service station grinning sheepishly saying, “I fixed it and now it won’t work!” Some of the most gifted people I know crawl out from under cars greases-stained, smelling of hydrocarbons.
Athletes are probably the most widely recognized gifted people in our society. While there’s no officially designated program for “gifted athletes,” they seem to get quite a bit of attention. Finessing a goal in hockey, a spectacular jump shot or pure will power at the end of a long run illustrates very clearly, talent beyond the norm.
Most people think of Horowitz’s melodic range, Picasso’s visual acrobatics and Hemingway’s spare prose when looking at talented and gifted people. But there are moments for all of us when there is a convergence of intelligence, interest, and determination that produces something unique. We might find ourselves saying, “Gee, that was great!”
For some giftedness can take the form of being a good listener. Some people seem to know what we really feel even before we speak it. Their ability to walk in our shoes gives us a rare gift, the gift of being understood.
Making sense out of life’s minor catastrophes takes talent. Your shoelace busts with five minutes to get to work. The car runs out of gas and you forget your office door key. Not a good day! A talent for taking the long view at these times makes a few frayed nerves look just as ridiculous as a tattered shoelace. Few people get the distance or time to adjust to minor catastrophes. The next ordeal lurks around the corner. Stopping and falling back on your own resources takes some talent. Sometimes life’s big messes are easier to cope with than a series of small screw ups.
For a few seconds all of us can stand between the commonplace and the awesome. The gift of intelligence, our own inclinations and drives, and the ability to laugh at our shortcomings, makes us perhaps a little gifted at that moment.