Gina Barreca: Sure I’m Shameless — It’s A Gift

By Gina Barreca
The Hartford Courant.

What three gifts you were given at birth? I’m not asking about your accomplishments or achievements. I’m certainly not asking what you made of yourself, but I am asking you to decide from what you were made.

What can you speed through faster than anybody else? What are your get-out-of-jail free cards?

Most of us wouldn’t be able to claim the way old-time Disney princesses could, that our fairy godmothers awarded us grace, sweet natures and good looks.

Off-screen, our gifts are, shall we say?, more varied.

Mine, for example, can’t be found on any gift registry. That’s one reason it took me a long time to recognize them as advantages and admit that they’re precisely the traits that make me who I am.

It turns out that my gifts, like my sins, are ones of omission.

It’s not what I was born with that matters: It’s what I was born without. Since infancy, I’ve had no shame, no fear of speaking up and not even a hint of perfectionism.

So think for a moment (but not too long, this is about instinct) and decide what your fairy godmothers, or the genetic code or fate gave you. What did the benefactors, before you were born, choose as factory-issued attributes you’d be given to help you get through life?

I asked my Facebook tribe this question and more than 100 of them answered within 12 hours. I was surprised at the clear constellations visible from the pattern of their replies.

Most of them happily laid claim to a sense of humor, a talent for telling a story and a willingness to make the best of a bad situation. They’re grateful for their smarts, their resilience and their health. They understand the privilege of being born into an environment where they can have legal access to education, to health care and to free expression, aware that not only their ancestors but many of their contemporaries around the world are denied these essential human rights.

A friend in Brooklyn admitted that her curly hair is a gift because it suits her, but explains it’s also her curse. (If you have curly hair, you understand; if you don’t, send me a stamped, self-addressed envelope and I’ll explain.)

My friend is proud of her facility for learning languages, because this has allowed her to travel easily as well as to live abroad, and she’s relieved that her love of the water allows her to hit the pool without defining her beloved daily swims as mere exercise.

I’d see her gifts differently: I’ve known her for more than 35 years and I’d say it was her self-discipline, hard-won and diligently maintained, that makes her swim and makes her feel at home anywhere on the planet. The curly hair might count as a basic ingredient: The rest she’s earned herself.

But I discovered that the best part of asking this question was hearing her say that she was proud of something, anything. If I’d asked her what made her spectacular or what she’s better at than other people, she would have mumbled and denied that she could do anything apart from wake up, brush her teeth and maybe, every once in a while when she could no longer make excuses, remind herself that she could still do a few laps without taking a break.

I think it’s time to appreciate what we’ve got and what we’ve done with what we’ve been given.

If you’re one of those people who can fix any engine, understand every piece of technology or prepare a memorable feast from three chicken wings, two pieces of Gouda and a leek, shouldn’t you feel unapologetically grateful for these birthrights?

Think about giving somebody a present. Isn’t it wonderful to see them use it? Isn’t it sad to think what you’ve chosen for them might be thrown into the back of a drawer, neglected, undervalued or untouched?

Recognizing your talents doesn’t mean believing they’re limitless.
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Accepting your strengths doesn’t lead to pride but instead to humility; you’re less likely to resent what others have if you understand your own bounty.

Self-acceptance? That’s a real gift.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.

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