“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” ERMA BOMBECK
I met this quote a while back and fell in love. It spoke to that passionate part of me that wants to be well used; for my art, for my love, for my strength, for my joy, for my wisdom – you gave it to me, life, now help me give it back. I loved the idea of turning up at heaven’s gates satisfied that I’d given life my all and made good use of my gifts.
So when I originally imagined writing this post I intended it to be the conversation between God and I, discussing my talent and how I’d used it. I began to write – and I got stuck. How could I have a conversation about talent when I wasn’t yet clear in my understanding of what that really was? Oh, I know what the word means – but words are only a translation. The stuff they stand for is much bigger. So, what’s the ‘stuff’ that we’ve named talent?
So I asked myself and I replied – true talent is humility. How so? Because the essential nature of talent is the willingness to get out of the way, to be a conduit and a channel for that which wants to be shared.
“In every block of marble I see a statue, as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to other eyes as mine see it.” MICHELANGELO
As I consider this new way of understanding talent I bow my head a little lower for I realise I’ve not yet learned to be ‘out of the way’ enough. Only I can know what it is I experienced, what it is I saw, felt, heard, and therefore I can be the only true judge of how authentically that experience has been translated into words. I still feel so much more than I am able to translate through the filters of my mind and the muscles of my arm before the idea wanting to be born eventually reaches the pen and turns into words that have played Chinese whispers. So the first part of getting out of the way is letting the experience or the story come through authentically. But there’s another ‘letting go’.
As a writer I begin to believe my aim is not to re-create an identical experience but to gift the reader a pathway, stepping stones, that will lead the way and generate the will and desire to create their own, unique experience. Maybe that’s why poetry is still best for ‘the big stuff’ – love, grief, the natural world, the sacred. Use a few, well chosen words to lead the reader to that place and then leave them there to have a look around for themselves, let their heart do its own feeling – don’t tell it what it should feel. So the second letting go is one of releasing any expectation of what the reader response ‘should’ be.
So talent is humility and getting out of the way. Talent is not about acquisition it’s about letting go. Sure, there are skills to hone along the way, but these themselves are not talent. Skills are the tools and, the more refined and integrated into our very being they are, the easier it will be for the magic of talent to make good use of them, and birth the idea from the world of potential into this world of the manifest authentically.
So now that I have a clearer understanding of what talent is, at least for me, what of the rest of the quote? Can talent be used up?
“…I would hope that I would not have
a single bit of talent left…”
Now I feel I’m getting somewhere, for I’ve always felt there’s no need to protect or limit or pace my creativity, because when I’m truly creative I’m tapping in to an inexhaustible supply, a source that never runs dry. To access it I only need to allow myself to connect with that source and there is nothing I can’t create. So, by that token, talent, the stuff from which or with which art is created through me, can’t be used up. It would seem in fact that true talent is like true love. The more you give it away the more it comes back to you, one hundred fold.
Well, I did really love this quote, and I still like it, but now that I’ve sat with it and written with it a while I don’t think it’s true for me. So, this is my version:
“When I stand before God at the end of this life, I would hope that there’s less of me and more of God than the last time we met, and that I would not have as many sticky, rough places to get in the way, and that I could say, “I let through everything you gave me.”