One In a Gillion
Inspiration hit as soon as Gil saw the old flood photographs. Caught in the moment, he hurried to the piano and struck up his latest composition:
Going on a flood trip,
We grabbed a surfboard,
Surfed all the buildings …
Not bad for 7 years old, right?
It’s been a while since Mister Gil visited this space. That’s because it’s been a while since Mister Gil visited Colorado. My young nephew is a denizen of Washington State these days, which makes random drop-bys about as common as a Seattle Mariners World Series win. But recently, lightning struck – his parents were back in town for a reunion, which meant Gil would be staying the night with us.
Which meant, in turn, that I would be discovering Gil’s many, many talents.
Such as improvisational piano.
And kitchen dancing. (“Uptown Funk” remains a favorite.)
And ciphers of many sorts.
And spur-of-the-moment jokes and puns. (Well, he is my nephew.)
And card games. (I’ve grown rather fond of “Garbage.”)
And … well, anything else he puts his mind to, really. It doesn’t matter if he’s done it before. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even matter if he’s heard of it before. If it can be managed by an 7-year-old’s hands, feet, or imagination, Gil will give it a try.
I’d call it a fearlessness, except Gil doesn’t know there’s anything to be brave about. It’s just all stuff to try. In that, he’s wiser than a lot of adults, including his uncle.
Down in the kitchen, I have recipes that I want to learn to make one day.
In our guest room is a guitar that I keep meaning to get back to.
Of course, there are the beginner’s drawing tools in my desk drawer. Not to mention the novel that I really will get going on one of these days – promise.
It’s easy to plead time, or exhaustion, or any of a dozen other reasons. Sometimes they’re even legitimate. But for many of us, I think the gap between a Mister Gil and grown-ups like Uncle Scott comes down to two simpler things – habit and focus.
Habit is the behavioral version of Newton’s First Law: we tend to keep doing what we’re used to doing. At 7, Gil is used to doing … well, everything. But the rest of us have comfortable skills, useful routines, boundaries. Talents at rest tend to remain at rest.
And that, in turn, is largely a product of focus.
Have you ever asked a very young child what they want to be when they grow up? Odds are you’ve heard something like “I want to be a firefighter … and a doctor … and a princess … and a tree.” And somewhere along the line, we encourage them to pick something, to find what they’re good at, to concentrate on that so their skill will grow and expand.
By itself, that’s not a bad thing. Every skill needs concentration and discipline if it’s to develop, and no one has time to master absolutely everything. But too often, a corollary comes with it. If a skill doesn’t come easy, or if it’s one we’ve not tried, we learn to draw sharp borders.
“Oh, I can’t do that.”
“I’m no good at that.”
“That’s not my thing.”
No one has to like everything, of course. But like a child in front of an unfamiliar dinner, we’re often too unsure of what we’re seeing to risk a new taste.
It’s OK to try.
It’s OK to learn something you won’t master.
It’s OK to dabble, to play, even to discover you’re not good at something … and that you enjoy it anyway.
That, too, is a joy.
By the time this sees print, Gil will be back in Washington. But I think he’s left a little bit of that fearless discovery behind. All I know is, I’m going to have to dust off that guitar pretty soon.
After all, “Flood Surfing” won’t play itself.