Genius, Unencouraged, Withers

Too often, I fear, we fail to recognize the small stirrings of genius in each other.

I was made keenly aware of this this past week in a small exchange of conversation between my wife and myself.

And sometimes it is because we are so used to the particular gifting we have but have gotten used to.

Here’s how it played out. While riding somewhere, I said something that for me was within my usual way of thinking of things, some observation about what was going on that, for me, encapsulated an idea, painted the bigger picture in what was going on. To give you an example, our son and daughter-in-law have been teaching their 9-month-old son to clap his hands when he accomplishes some major (for him) feat of growth—rolling over, grabbing something, making a sound that is recognizable to us, etc. I thought that was an admirable and praiseworthy way of helping him grow, but the way I said it was, “That’s neat! They’re teaching him to celebrate little things!” It was, for me, just a simple statement, nothing profound, but it moved my wife. “I would never have thought of it that way,” she said in amazement.

And then that old self-denigrating, self-deprecating little demon that leads to envy (we all deal with it) started hounding her. “I wish I could do that. You are so good at that, but I never think of things that way.”

I tried to head it off at the pass. “You are gifted in so many other ways, Sweetie,” I suggested—and she really is. And then I had a thought: “Why don’t we pray that you get that gift?” So we said a short prayer to that effect—nothing elaborate, just a simple request.

Twice later in that same day, she made observations that were on the same level of brilliance to me as what I had done earlier was for her. And I pointed it out to her, to her amazement, I think. And I’m sure she has done it more than either of us had been aware of in the past—we simply hadn’t noticed.

I do have a gifting with words, and I’ve been told that more than once, but it’s something I’m used to. I live with it, breathe it, glory in it, am tormented by it. It’s my atmosphere, my milieu, my life-breath. But I noticed that she has sparks that are just as brilliant, moments of insight, flashes of luminescence that surprise and fascinate me—but I seldom comment on them because it’s so commonplace for me. And the same genius in her, unnoticed and uncomplimented, withers and atrophies, wastes away, simply for lack of a little watering, a few well-placed kind words.

Far too many people live in a “home on the range, where seldom is heard an ENcouraging word”—not intentionally, but simply because we walk blindly—bludgeoningly, it turns out—through this life, not building up our fellow sojourners, and as a result allowing each other to wither in a dry desert of un-notice. We grow up that way, with no one feeding our deepest longings for significance, no one teaching us that we can, simply by our words, make a difference. We starve each other of part of our humanness, and kingdoms fall for want of a small nail. We don’t mean to—it just “happens.”

I think of two powerful images of this lack. The first image is from a scientific experiment (I can’t imagine doing this—it pains me to even think of it) in which they taped a patch over a new-born kitten’s eye (fortunately, only one eye) to see if it could learn to see, having known only darkness. It couldn’t—for the entire remainder of life. The other is a parable, a definition of heaven and hell based on how we treat each other: If we couldn’t bend our arms at the elbows, and had to try to eat, hell would be trying only to feed ourselves—heaven would be feeding each other.

I’m not sure we can undo all the patches we have been subjected to, whether deliberately or through circumstances. But we can try to learn to live in that parabolic heaven now. We can learn to celebrate little things.

We can help each other find our way on the path we all trod that Victor Frankl called “Man’s Search For Meaning.”

We can.

Notice. Become.

Aware. Alive.

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