I admit to not being a particularly religious person, although I do believe in God and say prayers every day, usually more than once (like when I eat or if I hear bad news). I thank the Lord for the usual things – my life, my health, my family . . . the comforts that make life easier, from the basics (food, shelter) to all those extras (computers, DSL, cable TV, vacations, the third car) . . . asking Him to grant strength and comfort to those who've suffered a loss . . . even asking for world peace. One thing I have never given thanks for, though, is my ability to write. It never even occurred to me to do this.

I realized this when reading the Acknowledgments section of a novel whose author thanked God, and I wondered, am I being ungrateful?

I've been blessed with an aptitude for the written word, but that alone hardly qualifies me to write a novel, no more than showing a predilection for dance qualifies one to lead the dream sequence in Oklahoma! or a proclivity to immerse onself into a fictional character makes one ready to star in Macbeth, or a talent for drawing makes the artist ready for a one-man show at the Met. Like any natural skill, writing must be nurtured and improved to a degree where it will do me some good. People gifted with good singing voices must project from their diaphragms; if they don't they'll burn out their voice . . . literally. Athletes and serious actors, like singers, have coaches. I practice my chosen craft, just like boxers spar, tennis players volley, and ice skaters spin. In doing so, I changed a natural ability into an acquired skill.

Many years ago a little boy with a stuttering problem practiced speaking until he developed an impressive speaking voice. Not quite as long ago, a young boy, devastated at having been cut from the basketball team at school, set out to improve his skills. Both these people are known today for being at the top of their craft. We know them as James Earl Jones and Michael Jordan, respectively.

I parlayed my own ability as a fast and accurate typist and ability to retain hundreds of short cuts in my head into a career as a sought-after medical transcriptionist, earning quite a respectable income without having to leave my home (and usually wearing something other than street clothes.) I remember how I used to scream at my stepkids for carelessly packing sharp knives blade side up in the dishwasher, giving my fingers several close calls when I went to put them away. I earned my living with those fingers. What I didn't count on was the sharp pains in both my wrists that developed after years of transcribing by day and writing by night
. . . pains that eventually drove me out of the profession (because I wasn't about to give up my writing). I hadn't mistreated my hands, I overused them. I've managed to rebound nicely, but even in the glory days, it never occurred to me to thank God for the skill that had been so good to me.

So while I'm appreciative for my natural ability, I also know that there's no magic wand involved. It took a heck of a lot of sweat for me to get to where I am now.

And I also know that the learning will never end.