The other night at a dinner party someone who had just finished reading my novel CONTESSA said to me, “You’re a gifted writer.” As a matter of course, I replied, “thank you.”
I suppose when we say someone is gifted, and I certainly have said this about many other people, we mean that the person concerned is talented, skilled, masterful, first-rate, cracker-jack, whiz-bang, polished, accomplished, clever, sharp and at least a dozen other adjectives. At any rate such a compliment is music to anyone’s ears—especially if it concerns their writing, cooking, you name it.
Then we have the noun which is similar in many ways but which we think of mainly as a present of some sort. In the world of children or the kid in us, it most always means something of material value wrapped prettily or something to do with money or some nice compliment. They are our favorites because they play up to our feel-good ego. Proof of this is when we chime out to someone else, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” or “Oh, it was nothing really.” or “That’s so sweet of you!”
Then we have gifts that can appear at the strangest times in the most unexpected places. These types of gifts are ephemeral—meaning passing in and out of our lives in a matter of a moment or two. Even so, sometimes they stay with us forever or change our or others’ lives in a great way. These are the ones this blog is talking about.
A question can certainly be one of the intangible gifts. This momentary “gift” can alter not only our lives but affect the lives of others. This sounds a bit far fetched but let’s consider a question Margaret Mitchell’s husband once asked her.
In May 1926, Mitchell had left her job at the Atlanta Journal to recover at home from an ankle injury. Her husband soon became weary from lugging armloads of books home from the library to keep his wife’s mind occupied while she hobbled around the house. One day when he was at his wits end, he emphatically suggested that she write her own book instead. “For God’s sake, Peggy, can’t you write a book instead of reading hundreds of them?”
What a gift? Indeed she did sit down and write the only novel she ever published during her lifetime: GONE WITH THE WIND. This book and the film based upon it have become over the years the defining fictional chronicle of the Civil War. Margaret Mitchell’s answering that “gift” question positively made many people rich. GONE WITH THE WIND in Hollywood did not merely win more Oscars than any previous film—8 in all—but unleashed a series of firsts. Hattie McDaniel not only became the first African American to win an Oscar but was the first nominee of her race in any category— and, as far as that goes, the first African American ever invited to attend the Oscar ceremony.
However, Margaret Mitchell got another “gift” question when the book was being readied for publication. One of the editors asked her, “Do you think Pansy O’Hara is the right name for your main character?” Margaret changed it on the spot to her red Cocker Spaniel’s name—Scarlett. Can you see Vivian Leigh ever playing a character by the name of Pansy O’Hara? Do you think she would have even considered the role which won her an Oscar? The whole world knows Scarlett O’Hara though. That was a “gift” question.
All I’m saying is that many of our gifts in life don’t have to come gift wrapped or in the form of a check. Sometimes, or many times, our gifts come in the form of a question. We should be open to these questions and treat them like gifts. How many people automatically say no or reply negatively to any question? What we can do is not look a “gift horse” in the mouth just because there’s no wrapping or a dollar mark. Many times we think we are unlucky but the matter is often we’re stone deaf to many of life’s gifts.
Here’s a challenge for you. In the next week try saying “yes” to some of these “gift” questions. You have no idea where it may lead you.