In Part 1, I argued that The Rainbow Fish implies that we can only have friends if we are willing to be exactly like them, and that friendship requires giving away all of our special attributes if our particular giftedness makes others feel jealous or uncomfortable. I talked about how I disagree with the story in its suggestion that there is a small and finite amount of beauty and giftedness in the world, and that for there to be any equity, the beauty must be parceled out equally until there are only little bits of sparkle here and there. No, I wrote, the sea is full of beautiful fish, each shimmering and vibrant in a unique way. And part of the fun of life is to learn to truly enjoy others’ shimmering gifts. The trick is not only to figure out what your unique gifts are, but also to choose celebration rather than jealousy when others are gifted in ways you are not. It is not only okay that we are not all exactly the same; it is deeply good.
Unlike many of my friends, I am not gifted to enjoy cookie exchanges. For those unfamiliar with this December phenomenon, cookie exchanges are parties, usually for women, in which every guest bakes several dozen of their favorite holiday cookies and then brings them to the party to share. Each guest trades the cookies they baked and brought for an assortment of the cookies brought by the other guests. Many people love these parties because you get to sample a bunch of cookies and walk away with several dozen! What’s not to like? Nothing…if you are gifted in baking and you enjoy sampling lots of recipes. But, if you are me and baking several dozen cookies sounds stressful and you lack a favorite cookie recipe handed down through the generations in your family and discovering new recipes does not bring you joy, then a cookie exchange does not add holiday cheer to your calendar. Like the non-rainbow fish in the book, I just don’t sparkle in that way. And I’m okay with that. The last time I was invited to a cookie exchange, I politely declined and when my friends pushed me on why I did not want to participate, I could only mutter “flour…countertops…messy…my children…” while slightly twitching.
Please do not misunderstand me; I am not trying to abolish cookie exchange parties. I am simply explaining how my gifts, temperament and family heritage are not suited to them. I am quite happy for my friends who get joy from these parties to keep hosting and attending them. Embrace the ways that you shimmer, friends! If you were made to bake and share cookies, then do it with abandon! And I will exuberantly do the things I was made to do. Let’s all exercise our gifts with something like this attitude:
Speaking of doing what you were made to do, I have a friend named Lindsay who is astoundingly gifted in leading children in crafts and baking. In contrast to me whose motto when it comes to crafts is You lost me at glue gun, Lindsay can think of nothing more fun than to host a bunch of kids, give them each a cup of frosting, a shaker of sprinkles and already baked sugar cookies, and then set them to decorating. She may even tie it all together with some moral or historical lesson. I absolutely love taking my kids to her parties. But for me there is no quicker route to a migraine than to try to host such an event. Multiple children armed with sprinkles and frosting in my home? Hold me.
I have another friend who can analyze any process and figure out how it could be done more efficiently and simply, from wedding receptions to check-out lines. Carole studied industrial operations engineering in college, and she is a whiz at making things run well. Give her a process and she will improve it! I love watching her mind work. Look at the picture below of my husband Rick, our friend Michael, and Carole. We were on a tour of the bottling factory of Siberia’s premier vodka manufacturer (long story). Lab coats were required. Naturally.
Let’s talk about my friend Jon. He has what’s known in Christian circles as the gift of helps. He can coordinate all the details of a large conference while making sure that everyone involved has their needs met. He will even turn an eye to how everyone is feeling. In contrast, I can manage practical details or I can handle feelings. I cannot do both simultaneously. Jon is a wonder. We were once on a team together leading thirty college students on a six week trip deep into China’s interior. Just knowing that Jon and his practical and attentive compassion were there helped me feel at ease.
My father-in-law is a teacher through and through. Give him any child, aged 1 to 14, and he will start teaching them, and they will be having so much fun that they won’t even realize they are learning. It was from Papa that my kids learned to use scissors, from Papa that they learned how to mop, and from Papa that they learned how to plant a garden. At Papa’s house, my kids get up everyday and happily ask for their clipboards where Papa has prepared “homework” for each one. When I went to kindergarten round-up to register my twins for kindergarten and the teachers talked about pre-literacy activities we could do to help our kids get ready to read, I realized that Papa had already been doing all of them. For years. Things like putting large labels on objects around the house and like having the kids make and fill in calendars. Papa was made to teach.
So, how do I shimmer? If you need to find your way around a hospital and the medical culture in an emergency, I’d be a great companion and guide. That’s my zone. Or if you are facing some other kind of challenging situation and you need someone to brainstorm a way forward and find resources to help, I’m totally your girl. If you want a beautiful meal that is delicious and interesting to the palate with every dish served warm and every guest made to feel special, however, it is my husband you want. He’s the guy for tasks that require finesse. Vive la difference!
Despite what Pinterest or The Rainbow Fish might imply, none of these gifts is more valuable than the others. Each is desperately needed at one time or another. And each should be exercised with great joy and satisfaction by its possessor. Is there anything more fun than doing what you’re good at? Let us not insist on all shimmering in the same way. Instead, let us find and celebrate the beauty of each fish in our sea. Otherwise, we will all be impoverished.
© Laura Goetsch and goetschblog, 2014.