In my favorite scene from the 1986 movie Stand by Me,12-year-old Chris Chambers is talking to his best pal Gordie Lachance. Chris’s old man is a drunk and he knows his own future looks pretty bleak but Gordie? Sure, his brother just died but Gordie can write stories! That’s a gift, Chris tells him. “It’s like God says to you ‘This is what we got for ya, kid. Try not to lose it.’”
We all have gifts but do we even know what they are? For sure we all know what our gifts aren’t. I, for example, can’t type to save my life, can’t identify makes and models of cars, can’t hold on to the Alto part for the life of me if there’s a Tenor singing beside me. The list goes on.
What I can do is remember what people tell me. When people talk about themselves I can almost slide right down their voices and into their living rooms as John Updike put it in his wonderful short story A & P. It’s as if I can actually see what they’re telling me. And then I remember it. It’s nice because then if they forget what’s good about them I can remind them.
Or if they get fuzzy about the narrative of their life.
Or if they need a letter of reference.
God gave me that gift: the ability to tell the good things about a person in a letter of reference.
And a lucky thing too because the other day a young person asked me to write such a letter right away for him.
I wrote it yesterday and it took me almost the whole day, Not because I can’t type or because someone was singing tenor in my ear or asking me to tell the difference between a Kia Sportage and a Rav 4 but because if it’s true that you only have about 60 seconds of a potential employer’s time to express something real and true about a person you’d better pick the right words.
Just before waking yesterday I dreamed I had to build a sort of platform for this person, and make it functional and lasting and oh yes carve his initials into the middle of it so everyone would know it was his. I don’t know the first thing about carpentry and woodworking so you can imagine my relief when I woke and realized really all I had to do was write him a recommendation.
So that’s what I did yesterday, to the exclusion of almost everything else. I thought and thought about all that this person has ever said to me and then I wrote down as many true things about him as I could about him in the smallest number of words. And I have to say at the end of the day it seemed like time well spent.
And now, nostalgia for Rob Reiner’s beautiful ode to the end of childhood: