by Jennifer Paros
Recently I had the opportunity to watch the
film Amadeus again and was struck by a
scene in which the fictionalized character of
Amadeus’s greatest admirer and nemesis, is
composing at the piano. He discovers a melody
with which he is delighted, turns to the
crucifix on the wall and thanks Jesus for the
blessing he’s been given.
In the next scene, however, Mozart plays the same piece (by ear,
after only one hearing), embellishes it, and turns it into something
grander and seemingly more impressive.
Salieri stands by
distressed. Later we see him in his room as he tears the crucifix
from the wall and throws it on the fire. In his eyes, God has
betrayed him; he wants to know why he’s been cheated out of this
sort of phenomenal talent – the talent Mozart seems to posses but
which he does not.
But this question’s foundation does not actually rest on the
“reality” of the uneven distribution of talent. For that is just a
story we make up. We often grade our gifts, which is very
different than receiving them fully.
It’s true – there aren’t multiple Mozarts in the world – but that’s
the natural order. Everyone comes in with a different perspective
and different ways of contributing to the greater good. To
experience our genius, we have to acknowledge our gifts, receive
them and embrace them – without comparison. There is no way to be a
genius at anything with our eyes on someone else’s journey. That’s
simply energy wasted whose true purpose is to power our own work and
In the solitude of his heart, mind, and creative process,
Salieri was pleased
with what he wrote – loving music, loving what he had discovered,
aware of its value. But as soon as he started comparing, he felt
cheated; he felt not enough.
If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.
-- St. Catherine of Siena
Salieri’s source of suffering was truly God’s unfairness, then God
would have to hold the same grading system for gifts and talents
we’ve made up.
So though he seems
to be speaking of God – an
Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2012
all-powerful energy that creates worlds – in truth, he speaks only
of his own limited view. He tells a story that he is not as good as
another, and he suffers. He tells the story; he rates his own gift,
but it is he who tells that story – not the life power to
whom he prays.
When I was ten, I was wobbly on the matter of my appearance. I
looked at other girls and felt jealous and hopeless. It seemed that
the prettiness I wanted was beyond me – that I was condemned to
being something I did not want to be.
Then one day, my pretty, very social friend had an idea. She wanted
to create a Rating Sheet listing a number of girls (herself
included) and send it over to a particular boy for grading. In
exacting language I told her to leave me off the list. This
directive was lost on her. Soon, the results were in. I listened
passively as my excited friend told me I had gotten a “0” in looks.
Use those talents you have. You will give joy to the world.
-- Bernard Meltzer
I was not surprised. Of course, I wanted life to disprove my
story about myself. But that’s not the way it works. First, we
must change the story. That rating was a match to my inner
narrative. Most of my energy at the time was going into staring at
what I thought I wasn’t, what I couldn’t be, what was
bad or wrong or ugly about me. My eyes were on the next
girl’s paper, comparing. My thinking was so skewed that when I later
received a gift from a Secret Admirer who told me to leave him a
note in the phonebook on the podium outside the nurse’s office – I
left the gift there instead. I couldn’t accept it; I
couldn’t accept that I was worthy of someone admiring me.
There are many gifts we leave behind because we’ve made up painful
stories about ourselves - many gifts unopened, un-embraced,
unrecognized. And perhaps that’s the only difference between one
who is “gifted” and one who is not: the inclination to accept and
embrace whatever the gifts we’ve been given as valuable, and
ourselves as worthy of having them.
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Jennifer Paros is a writer,
illustrator, and author of
Violet Bing and the Grand House
(Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.
Please visit her website at