Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

The Family Room by Michelle Martin

Talent Search

Prime-time TV is rife with examples of people showing off their talents, or lack thereof: “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” even “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Self-help gurus and St. Paul join in exhorting us to find and use our talents for the good of humanity and the glory of God.

But what to tell a child that can’t quite figure out what her talents are?

That was the situation Caroline, 9, was in one evening. Somehow, listing what we perceive as her talents didn’t help. She’s smart, she can write, she can think analytically (In a summer reading book report, she compared “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to “Wicked,” based on their common theme of being falsely accused.), she’s creative (On a dad-daughter camping trip, she came up with a comedy routine on 10 non-food uses of cheese for a talent show), she can dribble a basketball without looking at it …

“But I have no talent,” she says.

“Well,” I finally say, “You’re good at arguing.”

“That’s not a talent!”

Lawyers might disagree.

Honestly, I think Caroline’s lack of insight into what she has to contribute to the world had more to do with a toolate night the day before, followed by a long, boring day of hanging out with mom and dad.

She couldn’t see what she did in that time that makes me so impressed with her: comforting her grandmother when her grandfather spent an unexpected night in the hospital, to the point of assuming an adult voice and telling her grandmother she’d better get some sleep; greeting her grandfather on the way out of the hospital and bringing a smile to his face; amusing herself for a few hours in the office without being too disruptive.

It wasn’t an ideal summer day for a child, what with having to tag along on all kinds of errands, including picking her brother up at day camp (where she would have been if she’d made it to bed before 11:30 p.m. the night before.) But she came through when it counted.

At 9 years old, she sings and dances and draws better than I do. She probably plays basketball better too.

But she’s at an age now where the world is no longer her oyster; she knows not everyone can grow up to play professional sports, or be a pop star or run for president, and because she does not have the kind of all-consuming talent and passion for something that child prodigies featured on television have, she doesn’t know where she’ll fit in.

She has yet to see the enormous possibilities that are open to her, that depend only on her choice and her willingness to work at making them realities.

In the meantime, I think her more important talent lies in being a considerate and caring person.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].