Monday, June 22, 2009

Adding Things Up

I had an uncle whose name I cannot recall – he was actually my mom’s uncle and he lived in New Orleans. I can ask my sister Mary and am sure she would remember his name. What I do remember about him is a gift that he had and I heard stories about him when I was growing up.
The gift had to do with counting numbers and doing so in a flash. He would sit in a bar in New Orleans and not far from the bar were railroad tracks. He would gather patrons around him and boast that he could walk to the tracks and as a freight train passed, he would be able to look at all the freight car numbers as the train moved by and count them without need of pen and paper. The bets were on and off marched the group to the tracks, where they waited for the next train. When the train came, everyone looked at my uncle as he stared at the passing numbers. When the caboose faded into the distance, they all marched to an area where the train always stopped and several counted the numbers, which must have been a painstaking task. They jotted down the sum on a piece of paper and asked my uncle the final number he came up with. He told them and they reportedly gasped as the number matched the one they had. The bets were collected and off they went back to the bar, perhaps waiting for the next train in the hope of recovering their losses. I do not think that train ever came.
My uncle could apparently “read” numbers and as the numbers lumbered by he “read” them up without the need to “carry over numbers” and the like. His brain worked like a calculator – it seemed to have a chip that most of us do not have or perhaps do not know how to access.
I like the story because it brings to mind the fact that we all have gifts. Some may be admittedly unusual and can be quite profitable if we know how to summon the wagers. But, for the most part, our gifts tend to be of the ordinary kind. Some folks have a gift for putting people at ease. They are simply accepting people, and others sense this and feel comfortable in their presence. Intimacies are more readily shared. I once know a bartender named Owen who worked at a place called “Jimmy’s” in Manhattan. His nickname was Father Owen the Confessor.
Others are gifted with a positive nature. You simply feel better in their presence. A positive nature can be like sunshine on a wet road. It dries what we can so easily slip on – making the walk a lot easier.
Mechanical know-how is another gift. I remember a man named Claude Zarang, from New Orleans, who had an uncanny gift for locating the problem in a malfunctioning car engine and fixing it with a smile and a very reasonable fee. He was known all over the city.
People write songs, or poetry, or a novel. Words come easy, at times with a catchy melody. Some folks can prepare a meal fit for a King. Others can make a dress fit for a Queen.
I recently read of a woman who spent most of her life in an iron lung. She was so loved by all who knew her. Her gift was her ability to move into the hearts of many people. She deeply missed when she died. Her gift was one of making inroads of love into the hearts of people even though her body was confined to a machine. The iron lung enabled her to breathe air. Her heart inhaled people and their stories.
Everyone has a gift. If you have trouble seeing the gift of someone, seek out one who loves him or her. They will tell you. And I will bet that you will make some wondrous discoveries. We can go near the tracks of life and do our addition. The sum of the gifted will always be the same.

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