Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Best Gift of All

It's  NOT the sort of gift to which the blog refers, but I would not complain were someone to give this, or one much life it, to me.

Some among us are talented. Some are highly skilled. Others possess actual gifts. Others still merely think they have talents or skills, or  possess gifts. Perhaps it doesn't really matter. Maybe it is all in the eye of the beholder or in the mind of the one who possesses or merely thinks he possesses The Gift.

My mother can tell when someone is lying. As she's a psychologist, some would say this is more of a skill acquired on the job than a talent or gift.  What differentiates my mom's ability to separate a liar from a truth-teller from similar abilities in others is that she can tell when the person is lying even if the liar is so practiced at lying or so invested in a particular falsehood that the person is able to convince himself he is telling the truth. Someone who could beat a polygraph probably couldn't beat my mother's system. She's been a lone holdout more than once on juries.

As a baseball hitter, my brother usually knew what pitch was coming. This wasn't so much a gift  as a knowledge of how coaches reposition fielders depending upon the type of pitch that the pitcher had been asked to throw. 
As a pitcher, my brother could tell by looking at a batter's face when a batter was anticipating a particular pitch based on  my brother's coaches' repositioning of fielders. He then would thrown a different pitch. If it worked out, the batter either whiffed at the ball or hit a dull grounder into the infield, and coaches were happy even though he hadn't thrown the pitch that had been called. Early in his baseball-playing days, sometimes his control as a pitcher wasn't so great, and the batter got a good piece of the ball and hit it where the fielders were not because they had been positioned based on where the ball should have been hit based on a pitch that should have been thrown but wasn't. As my brother got better at putting the ball precisely where he wanted, he came out ahead in most of the challenges, and coaches seldom complained that he didn't always throw the requested pitches. If the road to the major leagues were not so long, poorly-paying, and heavily influenced by luck, my brother might very well be on that road now. If my brother's build were less slight (at [almost] 6'1" and 175, he's big for a person but not for a major league pitcher), he might have rolled the dice and given professional baseball a whirl, but the Tim Lincicums of the baseball world are few and far between. Sometimes a person has to consider biological limitations when  deciding upon a career.

My mom and brother are both good at playing cards. There are things they can tell from looking at people's faces that go right past me.

I have a couple of talents and maybe one real gift. If I master the technique of an instrument, I can play it by reading music or by ear, and i can spontaneously play harmonies or obligatos. Many musicians play either by notation or by ear. It's a bit of a novelty to be able to do both with ease. I'd call this a talent. I have relatively strong  visual and auditory memories. I remember what people say often when they wish I didn't remember. Those all fall under the umbrellas of either skills or talents. I have one actual gift. If I attend a class and pay attention to the lectures, i can predict with very strong (at least 95%) accuracy what will be on tests for the course. Even if a professor hasn't determined for himself or herself precisely what material from lectures or books will make it onto a test, I can still tell. There's a certain emphasis a professor's voice gives to those topics he or she finds important enough to include in exams. There's often even a look in their eyes that gives it away.  I don't like standard highlighters (paper that has been marked with highlighters feels uncomfortable to the touch) so I circled, underlined, and blocked with a purple ink pen anything that came up in lectures  that really set off my test radar during lectures. Many professors use computer test banks provided by textbook publishers, but nearly all professors I had modified the pre-programmed test banks to some degree. Sadly for me, my days as a test-taker of lectured material are over. I still have tests to take, but they're not the sort that are based on anything so user-friendly as lectures.

A lady in my Aunt Victoria's Bible Study Group has the Gift of Tongues. I've been to the group four times with my Aunt Victoria, all because of what I had heard about the woman with the Gift of Tongues, and she did not disappoint. No one else in the group is quite so charismatic, but they essentially take it in their strides when Gracie breaks into an other-worldly language.  I've heard stories of people who practiced speaking in tongues before a religious service so that they would be able to do it convincingly in public. I've seen a version of speaking in tongues that looked like the person was merely spouting gibberish and hoping everyone who saw and heard it didn't realize that he was totally faking a spiritual manifestation.  I cannot say for a fact that it is indeed the Holy Spirit leading Gracie to say the things she says, but I've seen no evidence that she's a phony. The things that come out of her mouth sound like a real language I cannot quite discern. She has the same expression on her face when she's speaking in tongues as when she's speaking as she normally does in English (which is a slightly spacy expression, but it's normal for her).The only thing I question at all is that, according to some scripture my aunt read to me, the gift of tongues exists for the edification of someone who hears it. I've yet to hear of anyone making sense of or otherwise benefiting from Gracie's manifestations. I've no evidence that someone didn't understand or benefit, though.

My cousin Bradford claims to have a gift for locating The Lost Tribes of Israel. He prays over an inflatable globe he picked up at The Dollar Tree. When he has finished praying, he is sometimes inspired to close his eyes, rotate the orb, then point to a particular spot on the globe with his eyes still closed. The spot he's chosen  is supposedly a location with a heavy concentration of members of a Lost Tribe hanging out there. Thus far he's found members of The Lost Tribes in the Pyrenees region between France and Spain heavily populated by individuals with Basque ethnicity, two Azores islands (Terceira and Pico, if it matters to anyone), the northern Michigan peninsula, Louisiana, northern Finland, an Appalachian region spanning parts of Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, Antarctica, and Staten Island.  Bradford, with his father's help, solicits contributions from family members and other Mormons so that he can travel to the locations he has pinpointed to interact with the members of the Lost Tribes.  My take on the contribution angle is that if God specifically were going to bestow upon a person a gift that would tell the person where to locate members of The Lost tribes, and if God genuinely wanted that person to visit the sites where members of The Lost Tribes had been spotted, God would also bestow on that person either the gift of enough money to finance the travels or would bestow upon the person a gift of enough brains that would allow him to earn money that he needed to visit all those places without hitting up every person he knows for money to make the trips. As it stands, Bradford and his wife are barely pulling in enough income to feed, clothe, and shelter their rapidly expanding brood. My parents won't help to finance Bradford's travels, but my mom sends groceries to them monthly because when she looks at Bradford's offspring at family reunions, she sees children who appear every bit as underfed as any of the kids on TV commercials that Sally Struthers is trying to guilt viewers into supporting.

My cousin Ty  feels that he has a gift that would allow him to mediate and create peace between the warring gangs of southern Utah. He, like his cousin Bradford, would like to have the wealthier members of he family offer financial support so that he could pursue this calling full-time and give up his day job (which is actually a night job, technically) as a clerk for a chain motel.  I don't spend enough time in the haunts of Parowan or Kanab or Ephraim or any other one-horse town in Utah to know whether the Bloods and the Crips have staked out their territory in those locations to the extent that one is in danger of getting caught in the cross-fire by simply dropping off a library book or filling one's tank with gas from one of the local self-serve gas stations. I do know, howevver, that if gang warfare in that region has escalated to the extent that specil task forces are required to address the problem, that sending my cousin Ty into southern Utah's equivalent to Desert Storm is not likely to make anything better. If anything, he would find a way to dredge up old squabbles and probably create a few new disputes, and schedule a rumble between warring factions that would never have happened had he stayed in his [mobile] home watching Koko and Greg Valentine battle it out on his 55-inch TV from the comfort of his Cheerio-encrusted sofa with God knows how many rugrats crawling over him.  Bottom Line: need or legitimacy of his cause notwithstanding (I'm not going to argue with Ty over the legitimacy of gang warfare in the barely-populated hamlets of southern Utah. For the sake of argument, I'll go so far as to concede that there is a real need, which is probably a far larger concession than any sane or learned person would make), Ty thrives on conflict to the extent that he's not the man for the job.  If life in the town offered too little action to suit his tastes, Ty would show up at a Priesthood Meeting in Kanab and would assign the men present  to be either Nortenos or Surenos, let them know what colors they needed to wear from that point forward, and would distribute weapons and notify all new gang bangers of the time and location of the next rumble.  Ty has to know deep in his heart that he has no interest whatsoever in curbing gang activity in southern Utah.  He wants to start it and get it going in full force so that he then can jump into the middle of it  with his uniform and badge and start randomly shooting at gang bangers in the name of the law.  Utah does not need this. Actually, no place needs what Ty proposes.

My Uncle Ralph communicates with horses. If anyone called him a horse whisperer, he would laugh at and probably say something profane to the person. He thoroughly disbelieves in any New Age woo woo-ism.  Regardless, he can ride anyone's horse and can get the horse to do what he wants it to do. My uncle probably weighs close to three hundred pounds; a horse would have to take one look at him and be less than jubilant at the idea of carting him around for however long my uncle might need to ride the horse. My uncle says something to the horse, though, then climbs on. The ride, regardless of its duration, goes smoothly until my uncle chooses to end it.  

One of my middle school teachers knew if a kid had gum (not a gun, but gum) in his or her possession. (Gum was strongly disallowed [zero tolerance] at the middle school I attended. It was what I would have considered a trivial issue, but under the previous administration, poor disposal of used gum had caused numerous problems, including the deliberate placement of it in the hair of a girl whose hair had been kept long since early childhood. In that case, all the peanut butter, ice, and every other known remedy were attempted, but not one of the "guaranteed" remedies worked. The principal felt strongly about it, and she was a principal who was liked by the teachers who worked under her direction, so they were supportive of her policy.  All teachers were consistent about noticing anyone who tried chewing it, but one teacher, Mr. Yi, must have had an especially keen sense of smell. He could tell not only that a kid had the gum somewhere on his or her person, but what kind of gum it was. If the kid forked over just a part of it, he would know that the kid was still carrying. Just like any line that is drawn in the sand, students were, of course, tempted to cross it. In retrospect, while a bit of time was wasted, it wasn't the worst  rule over which a school could have made an issue. If kids rebel over the right to possess gum, it does probably far less damage than if  kids were to rebel over the right to possess firearms or drugs.  It was a relatively academic school,  with drug problems almost  nonexistent, There probably wasn't a middle school or high school in the early 2000's in the U.S., other than perhaps in Amish country, where drugs were truly nonexistent. Mr. Yi could sniff out drugs as well. No one dared store them in lockers because Mr. Yi would detect them in passing.  If administration suspected someone of possessing drugs, they would bring the suspect to the office, then call in Mr. Yi for the sniff test. Anyone who tested positive on the Yi Test was given two options: hand it over, or administration would call the police, and law enforcement personnel would perform the search. In the two cases of which I was aware, both kids coughed up the drugs they were smuggling.

This particular skill is probably not so much a gift, talent, or skill, but more of a novelty.  A  guy in my cohort can tell if soda comes from a can, a plastic bottle, a glass bottle, or a tap.  He can tell Nestle chocolate from Hershey's whether in candy form (blindfolded) or syrup form.  He can identify brands of coffee by taste, can correctly tell where any fast food burger or fries came from, and can correctly identify brands or ketchup or mustard (he doesn't eat mayonnaise). There are probably many other things he could  can identify by taste alone of which I'm unaware.

My Aunt Celine can hear a sound that she says is high-pitched before the conventional telephone ring on a land line sounds in the manner that the rest of us hear. When she's around, she always announces just before that the phone is going to ring. I'm not entirely sure who she is trying to impress. We get it, Aunt Celine. You know that the phone is going to ring before the rest of us know. It's not as though it's particularly useful knowledge to have, such as having advance knowledge when an earthquake is going to happen or when a baby is going to choke.

Another aunt of mine by marriage retired from the teaching position recently, where she had spent twenty-eight years not counting the year she spent as a substitute. She had the unique talent, skill, or gift (I'm not sure which it would be) of knowing a few minutes in advance when a kid was going to throw up. And she taught preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grades, which are the prime grades for students themselves not knowing in advance when they were going to toss their cookies.  Part of her success was just paying closer attention than did the average teacher. She conducted a visual scan every few minutes, which a teacher would probably do for safety reasons anyway, but would note each child's face, and could tell if a child had "the look" several minutes before the kid's stomach went into rejection mode. She says it's a slight change in the child's coloring, a peculiar pallor, often with a tinge of gray/green as she describes it. This aunt has a very keen sense of color, which possibly increases her ability to discern a deviation from a child's normal coloring. Early in her career, school office personnel grew tired of her sending what they considered to be asymptomatic children to see the nurse or health aide, although sometimes the children had fevers already.  If the children were not feverish, she had no option but to sit them down with trash cans in front of them. After she had been teaching for several years and her record for prediction became known, the office would accept her early referrals. as a mother, her record wasn't 100%, both because babies don't necessarily look ill before they spit up, and because sometimes a child goes to bed reasonably healthy and becomes ill during the night. Her own children never threw up without her knowing in advance  during waking hours when they were at home with her. 

This last manifestation I will mention is probably neither much of a skill, talent, or gift, but I'll mention it anyway because it is notable in its own way. I have a three-year-old cousin on my dad's side who can tell time to the nearest quarter-hour by the TV and what is playing. this was not uncommon in the days of network television, and probably ten per cent of the population (my own estimation) could have determined time to the nearest quarter-hour by flipping through the three or four network channels.  My three-year-old cousin can accomplish this now by flipping through five or six random channels one through four-hundred on a TV with his family's cable system. He can identify more of the Food Network's chefs than I can.  He knows who probably the top one hundred men's professional golfers are. He knows the Spanish-language  novelas. He can tell you who anyone is who appeared on "The Lawrence Welk Show" at any point in its run. He's a game show expert. The weirdest thing about  it is that I do not believe he is on the autism spectrum. He's otherwise a fairly typical child, at least as Mormon kids go.

This video has nothing to do with my blog other than the song's title, but the children are so cute and funny that I wanted to share it.

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