Your talents are bigger than you even realize

July 12, 2012|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

His name is Fred and his plumbing strikes me as a work of art.

I've called others over the years out of curiosity. They have tried to persuade me to remodel my bathroom over a simple drain issue and they wanted to charge me literally twice as much to unclog a drain.

 Fred would never. He is an old-fashioned, no-nonsense kind of guy — honest, whip-smart and efficient. It's fascinating to watch as he considers a situation and makes his plan of action.

One recent Sunday night, my husband went to change the filter in our water purifier when he abruptly announced that we had no water. In the whole house, not a faucet would spout and not a toilet would flush.

I called Fred. He arrived early the next morning, uttered a polite greeting and headed to the cellar. Within moments, he had cut a section out of my pipes.

Then he jiggled them in such a way that the entire grid mapped along my cellar ceiling gently quaked. I wasn't sure why he did that, but I fully trusted Fred's diagnosis and treatment.

Home-repair disasters are the things my nightmares are made of. If I ever tried to cut a segment from a network of pipes, it wouldn't be pretty. I wouldn't have the right tools, and I'd probably do something impatient and desperate like trying to use a steak knife or a handsaw. Stupid, I know. And it would only get worse from there.

If I did somehow manage to remove a portion without affecting significant damage, I surely would be unable to find the right one to replace it.

I would search the Internet, put out an all-points bulletin for the right piece, purchase multiple samples from various area home improvement stores and would still end up with the wrong one. This is fact based on history.

Did I mention that this job entailed soldering? I don't even need to suggest what might happen there. This is not a job I could handle. I simply don't have the knowledge or skills. Fred's expertise blows me away, probably in large part, because I don't have it and not many people do.

It got me to thinking about individual gifts and abilities. I wondered if any of my skills could possibly be of similar value to someone else. I am a piano teacher.

While I am not a virtuoso, I can play a halfway decent Sonatina or two. Just as I couldn't learn to do what Fred does in a day, if ever, I suppose getting a handle on notation, meter and dynamics is not something most people could do without ample study and practice.

So many people I know don't really see themselves as having any special ability. It seems that if a proficiency comes naturally or if we love it, it becomes our norm and we don't think tend to think it's "all that." I think it's beautiful how each person has such unique attributes, and how people as a community can complement each other.

I recently witnessed a touching illustration of that. My friend, Kris, has a young son who requires occupational therapy. Paying the substantial ongoing co-payments is not feasible for her family. Kris' friend, Becky, who works during the school year in special education, designed a fun summer curriculum to include both of Kris' sons. She is working with them for a couple hours a week in a camp-style setting based on the boys' interests and they love it. Most amazingly, she refuses to take a cent.

"I'm just a friend trying to help a friend," Becky says.

I love that stuff.

Kris, meanwhile, makes gorgeous, personalized mosaics, which Becky admires. The masterpiece has not yet been unveiled, but it is in the works.

So here's what I'm learning. Whatever you do might not seem like a big deal to you, because you do it. But it is a huge deal to people who don't. Go do it.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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