by Jennifer Paros

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2012

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2012

Recently I had the opportunity to watch the film Amadeus again and was struck by a scene in which the fictionalized character of Salieri, 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 its realization. 

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 

If 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 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, wemust 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.

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

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