Too Bad About Your Gift, Bro (Sis)

Better luck next life…

An acclaimed young architect, with signature projects having been built, with his mind blooming with visions of constructions yet to be, finds that he is less and less able to draw. After years of intense training and the honing of a unique skill, a brain surgeon notices, not long after her 30th birthday, that she’s sometimes a bit clumsy with her scalpel. An ethical young lion of business finds herself hesitant, unable to make up her mind, while the dynamic teacher faces his class and finds, in the second decade of his dream career, that he doesn’t really know what to say to the kids anymore.

These are local tragedies, but what’s up? How does this happen? There must have been an existential earthquake. Cancer, a brain aneurysm, Lou Gehrig’s disease, something dreadful has suddenly snatched away or disabled someone’s essential gift. What a pity! It’s unjust, dispiriting. It just shouldn’t happen like that. If we are wealthy, we fear losing our money and possessions. When we love, we worry about the loss of the beloved one. And if we have a great gift, and we know it, our greatest fear is having that gift abandon us. (Of course, there are those who neglect or abuse their gift: the sellout songwriter without a thing to say after a string of popular hits, the monster athlete who loves bars and strip joints and can’t find the gym. This is not about that.) The imaginary designer, the doctor, the tycoon and the educator above, through no fault of their own, have had their way to shine snuffed out far too soon. We all agree that this would be awful for them, to say nothing of the loss to society.

But then, why dwell on a hypothetical sudden loss for imaginary professionals? Such things happen, of course, and hey, it sucks, but it’s just one of those weird things, we would probably say, just a lonely little box of bad luck. Most of their peers, and most of ours, work for as long as they want, potentially well past standard retirement ages. But listen: imagine if this happened to everybody in a given profession. It’s not difficult, actually. It happens to every professional athlete.

Given the absurdly high salaries that the top jocks pull down, it’s not fashionable to spare much pity in their direction, but it’s hard for them, all the same. Money can’t buy happiness, and fame doesn’t take away the pain (“it just pays the bills”, as Fred Eaglesmith sings). I think about this a lot.