When I was a kid I was labeled as gifted. This was the year I went to an elementary school around the corner from my grandparents house, the same elementary school my dad went to. I even had the same 4th grade teacher as he did. I walked into the classroom after having missed the first day and she welcomed me with, “A. Clark?” I thought she was calling me by my first initial and last name. But actually she was saying “A Clark?” as in “oh no, another Clark.” That was the year I went by my initials. I was determined to leave the complicated Airial behind and simply be known as AJ. I was tired of having to repeat my name over and over. It wasn’t that popular of a name in the 80’s. Mrs. Tracy was her name. She sent me to be evaluated by the school counselor right away. I had never taken an intelligence test. It was because she remembered my dad that she wanted to me out of her class and into the Gifted and Talented Education program as soon as possible. They didn’t have that program when my father was a kid. And she said it was a pity, he would have gotten into a lot less trouble if they had. So this Clark got labeled as “Gifted.”
I told my grandfather, the original Clark as far as I was concerned. He smirked. “They’re gonna separate you from the herd already, huh? Is that the gift? You don’t have to deal with the knuckleheads?”
“Uh, I guess so…” I didn’t like when Grandpa got all sardonic on me. I thought I was sharing good news. Pretty sure I gave him the ‘stop being unreasonable’ frown.
He relents, “Or does this mean you have gifts to give?” a little more gentle.
“Errm… If I’m gifted, then that means I have gifts.”
“And gifts are meant to be given,” cue the knowing grandpa eyes.
My grandfather had amber eyes. Stubborn eyes that refused to pick a shade and stick with it. Molasses one day, sunset the next. He called my eyes indecisive. “Are you blue or green today?” He would ask, “Ocean or sky?” I would run to the mirror to see if I could watch them change. When they finally settled on a golden green, the exact same as my father’s, he said they should have named me “do-over.”
At the time I remember thinking what a strange Grandpa I had. Nothing ever simple. Never easy. Nope. Clarks, we’re a complicated group of people. But my grandfather’s words always stuck. I’m nine years old, I’m gifted, so I have gifts to give.
I’ve often wondered what would have happened if my grandfather hadn’t framed it for me in that way, when the identity was fresh. Being gifted means you have things to give. Being gifted means you have to find new ways to give. The burden is on the gifted to figure out how to give.
I just spent a week in the desert living in a gift economy. I was gifted many many things out in Black Rock City: Necklaces, blinky lights, books, drinks, food and a really cute pair of undies! Surreal performances of fire and aerial feats. Dance parties in the dust waiting for the beat to drop. Lollipops and heavy sighs. Smiles, hugs and sex. I was given gratitude. I was gifted with appreciation for me being me. I brought my gifts too. The big ones I don’t get to use all the time. The gifts that make me feel 10 feet tall. The gift of a booming laugh. The gift of fierce safety. The gift of a teasing barb. The gift of a strong brow and a set jaw. The gift of more than just mischief. The gift or real true unconditional love. The gift of being shown up for. Centered, confident and grateful; I was at my bossy pants best.
And then… I wasn’t. Too far from home for too long. Too much disconnect from the boys. Too much never-never land and I was feeling every bit a Wendy. My gifts had burned away with the man. I was left with ashes and a wretched, guilt laced empty.
New gifts appeared. Gifts of vulnerability and open heartedness and unapologetic need. Arms of a best friend – who’s beautiful name means “gift”- wrapped around my sobbing shoulders. I was being held by a gift; A gift embraced me. A person, yes, but the embodiment of gift to me. Our friendship is a gift we continuously give each other.
That’s what I brought back from the burn. Yes, my gifts are for giving, but it’s not sustainable if I don’t receive any too. I slipped out the backdoor of my life for a week to be reminded of my own bigger picture. Who am I when I’m not caught up in the minutiae of parenting? I use my gifts everyday to make my kids’ life as awesome as it can be. My being gifted has saved our asses too many times. Yet, there in the dust I saw glimpses of this future me. And she’s rad. As soft as she is bold, as curious as she is knowing. As giving and she is receptive. No fear of gifts running out, no fear of not receiving. A beautiful, sustained being as loved as is she loving. And I can’t wait.