Once there was a kid. He was a middle child growing up in the Midwest at a time when some of the greatest musical influences in the world were at large. But while music was at one of its peaks, education wasn’t.
This kid was not particularly stellar in school. Sometimes letters swam around and didn’t do what they did in the brains of other kids; it was almost like his brain didn’t fit. That made school into a place where maybe this kid didn’t really want to be. Why read what feels like a foreign language when you could go home and listen to records?
One day the kid’s 8th grade science teacher told him to stay after class. The teacher sat the kid down, and he pulled out a guitar.
And that was his life.
Maybe the letters still swam around, but now they made chords, and those chords made music. And all of the stuff inside him that wasn’t right for school was right for this.
He wasn’t dumb. He wasn’t bad. His brain was made for music.
How lucky my dad was to have this kind of educator in his life: an educator who looks at a student and sees not his deficits but his potential. What if we all looked at the people in our lives that way? What if we all stopped judging people on what we think they should be good at and instead searched for the thing that they may not have yet discovered about themselves that could change the course of their life?
I believe we all have the same amount of intelligence, and all it really boils down to is how that intelligence is distributed and whether or not someone has made us believe that we are special enough to do something about it. It’s kind of like we’re all guitar strings: we all have the same importance, the same length, we just have the ability to play different notes. Maybe your intelligence is with words. Maybe it’s with sound. Maybe it’s with movement or people or plants or computers or colors. There is something at which you are so excellent and nobody in the world can do it like you. I promise you that this is true.
My dad didn’t like to read, but as a cousin once put it, he probably forgot more about guitar than any of us will ever know. To watch my dad pick up a guitar was to watch him find the other half of himself. He would draw it to himself like a magnet, tune it with no reference but his mind, and pluck away little nothings that just came from his brain, no matter how long it had been, because his brain could create music.
We all have that thing that, when we do it, it’s like a sigh. It’s a thing that comes from inside and makes its way out and maybe we don’t even realize how special we are at it but, truly, we are. The trouble is we have to be lucky enough to discover it. Otherwise it could stay hidden and we could live out one of the greatest personal tragedies, which is a life lived not knowing that we are special.
Do me and my dad a favor. Try to help the people around you to find their thing. Help them to recognize what it is that they can do that actually nobody else can: the thing inside them that changes the world. The thing that makes them feel like they are special, like they have a reason. Like they fit. How different might life be if we all discovered what it is that makes us feel that way? If we all felt like my dad’s guitar strings, tightened or loosened in exactly the way we needed in order to make the sweetest sounds and the most beautiful harmonies?
I’ll leave us all with that challenge. And to that 8th grade science teacher, thank you for doing what nobody said you had to do. Thank you for transforming a life. Rock on.