A few weeks ago, I sat through a sermon where the preacher suggested that some of the worst times in our life were times when we realised that people were better at things than we were - e.g., playing the piano.
I was mystified. Why would knowing that someone was better than me at something be one of the worst times in my life? The worst times in my life have been the moments of unimaginable loss, when I could barely breathe, barely remember who I am. Other people being better than I am and not being the person I thought I was weren't even at the periphery of my mind. Even as I heard him, I thought, 'Why would I be upset at someone being better than I am? Someone always IS.'
My parents felt like he did - that I needed to be the best at EVERYTHING intellectual, and that if I wasn't, I was either being lazy or robbed. Even then, I knew it wasn't true. What I resented was not being allowed to work out who I was and who I wanted to be - and what MY gifts really were.
At our high school commencement exercise, we were told to applaud those around us - to start clapping and never stop. I hope I've done that.
And do I clap wholeheartedly? I do.
I take immense pleasure in watching the breathtakingly gifted using their gift to the full: Usain Bolt; Itzhak Perlman; Mikhail Baryshnikov; Carl Rogers; Stephen Hawking; Salman Rushdie; JM Coetzee; Nelson Mandela.
It's like catching a glimpse of the spirit of God move upon the waters. Because people pouring out their gifts, using them to the hilt, is a continuation of that first act of creation.
It is holy.
And do I ever get upset if I see those better than I am at my gifts? No. Watching Lorna, our tutor last year, teach, was an incredible experience - I just wanted to learn from her. Ditto my friend Keith, who is a superb therapist. And as for writing, well:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
Tell me, no matter how wonderful a writer one hoped to be, how could one not melt into that for sheer joy in its beauty? To resent that would be a sin.
We all have gifts to bring in ways that only we can bring them - and it is for us to continue Creation's song by pouring them out as do the Usain Bolts, the Mikhail Baryshnikovs, the Nelson Mandelas.
And so I am deeply grateful for them - not only for the joy and good they bless us with as we witness their beauty and power, which is a form of tikkun olam, but also - and even more so - for pointing the way to compose our own phrase in Creation's song.
Sometimes, having your breath taken away can be a good thing.