Every once in awhile I look back at all the people I wished at one time I could have been. At age 7 I wanted to be the ‘Wolfman’. I couldn’t figure out back then why Lon Chaney was so sad at the idea of being the Wolfman a few days out of the month when it meant he could run faster, climb quicker and have a really cool hairdo. Later on I wanted to be the ‘Invisible Man’. Moving around, observing people. I figured I’d try to do as many good deeds as mischievous ones. But then I got older and at age ten I wanted to be James West (Wild, Wild West series). He could climb up the side of a building, was usually ready for traps set by his enemies and, the few times he did get caught.. made his way out with some cool gadget up his sleeve. As I remember, he did okay with the ladies, too.
As I got older and started looking up to “real” people, I was impressed with two men in particular. Jimmy Stewart and Humphrey Bogart. Jimmy Stewart showed you could be a nice guy and still be cool. Humphrey Bogart not only knew what was going on, but what he didn’t know he figured out quick enough and did something about it. But no matter how much someone else, or myself, tried to be like either of them.. there was only one Jimmy Stewart and only one Bogey to be had, ever. And then it occurred to me that if either of them had suppressed their character to imitate someone else’s, we’d have lost them in the process.
This brings us to the obvious. You are the only “you” there will ever be. Some people may have similar talents, habits, interests and such.. but no one else is you. That’s so obvious at first none of us really thinks much of it. I didn’t for a very long time. It’s a wise and wonderful thing to learn from the people around us and glean from their wisdom, failures and travails to be sure. But when it comes right down to it, that silly phrase, “I gotta be me!” has some ring of truth to it after all.
I got an e-mail yesterday from someone asking me, “How long have you been writing?”. Being the sarcastic clown I am at 3a.m. I was tempted to reply, “For about an hour and a half now.” Instead I began relaying how I’ve just always loved to write since I was a little kid. (Now, I guess I’m a big kid. I still think people older than me are the ‘grown ups’.) At age 8 I had finished my required reading a year in advance and fortunately, thanks to a wonderful teacher named Ms. Barbara Sirney, the next thing I knew we had a class newspaper and I was to be the editor. As the years went on I kept on writing short stories and poems even if they were a bit on the strange side. (I’d read just a little too much Rod Serling and E.A. Poe) Then came editorship at my high school paper and editor/writer with some friends for an underground humor newspaper.
The point I’m making is that it should have been obvious to me that despite all the interests that came my way.. music, drama, sports, whatever, writing was what I did as natural as breathing. Instead I kept pushing it to the side thinking that in order to find my place in life I had to ‘become’ something someone else did as their natural talent. All the while I never gave a thought to writing anything that might be constructive. Never thought to write anything that could even remotely be considered of any benefit to others than perhaps as kindling or fish wrap.
I have seen people who deep down know their talents yet have quelched their aspirations. I’m pretty sure it was Emerson who said, “Most men live out their lives in quiet desperation.” (perhaps one of my readers can verify this for me?) Deep down I believe we know that which we do excellently “as naturally as breathing”. But either through discouragement from others or even our own selves we do not venture out through the process of refining these gifts in order to be useful to others. It is not until the end of their years that many people sigh the saddest words on their rocking chairs, “I could have been…, if only I’d applied myself.” I’ve come to have a fear of the word ‘potential’. Potential is a wonderful encouragement in your early years. In your later years, ‘potential’ only means the ability is still waiting to be developed, it lies stagnant and is still locked in a state of ‘potential’.
But what sort of gifts, talents, abilities am I talking about? Is it only the easily tagged and labeled items such as singing, speaking, writing or physical agility? No. I really feel the world is in short need of such things. A few people of such talents can entertain the masses and there is no shortage of them. As much as I enjoy the finished works of those who have composed love songs, screenplays, theater pieces and the like.. I believe it is the “untagged” gifts that hold a greater place of need in this world.
I am speaking of the ability of some who have that ability to comfort others in their time of sorrow. I’m talking about people who have ears for the words of those that go hungry. I’m thinking of those of you who know how to bring a smile to a difficult situation or perhaps listen with an attentive ear to the heart of your friends. There is great need for Mothers who have love for their children to raise them with an appreciation for the virtues that are in such short supply today. Some of you are men with the integrity it takes to walk into work each day knowing that you’d rather do a job you didn’t like than ever think to abandon your family’s needs. Kindness, gentleness, love, sympathy, compassion, generosity.. these things and more we are capable of to some degree or another. But these talents, these qualities were never meant to be exchanged or kept in a glass jar for safe keeping.
I heard a story last weekend of a man from the 1800’s. He was a church going man and felt he wanted to be of help to others but didn’t see what special abilities he had to offer. He wasn’t an educated man, so he didn’t feel placed to teach. He didn’t consider himself a public speaker or anyone so special that others might consider to aspire to. In short he felt he really had no special talent at all. But what he did know how to do was to set out two extra plates every Sunday afternoon for lunch. And so this simple man made the faithful habit for years of inviting any two young men to have dinner with him every Sunday. Sometimes people from work, from church, friends, or even friends of friend. To each he extended his hospitality and conversation.
When this man finally died many years later his funeral was announced in the papers of England, in the town where he lived for he was a merchant of the area. When the day of his funeral came a train pulled into the town and it was several cars that carried over 150 men and women who felt touched enough by this man’s generosity that they felt impressed to attend his funeral. And this aside from his friends and family who knew him to have practiced his kindness ‘as natural as breathing’. Many of the came to a belief in God through this man, many simply revered his generosity and attentiveness.
We may or may not have such response to our giving. Expressing love in some way or another through the use of our talents is the only final asset to remain of our actions. I have also read, “The same words of praise will increase the modesty of a humble man, and the arrogance of a proud one.” So our motivation, our question to ourselves should not be, “What can I do to bring fame to myself?” but rather, “How can I use my abilities to know what love does in the hearts of those around me?”
You have certain talents you can do ‘as easily as breathing’. Maybe it is to sew or fix cars. Somewhere someone needs clothes or would be amazed to find you spending a weekend fixing their car as a favor. Perhaps you have no money for the poor, but have the time to gather donated goods for your community pantry once a month. Or maybe you are the only person who takes five minutes out of your day as you come home to stop and chat with the forgotten widow that lives next door. Not all abilities come with ‘labels’ that are easily measured or noticed.
We are creative beings who can look around and see not only what needs to be done, but how we in particular are the ones who can do it in our own creative way. I don’t implore you to “save the world” with strength you don’t have. Only to use what you possess naturally to do what comes most unnaturally.. to love those within your reach.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.