January 6, 2011

Gifts

I watched a biography of Donny Hathaway. Hathaway is regarded as a musical genius by many people and it's common for today's r&b artists to list him as a major influence. I was familiar with his music but I really didn't know much about his life.

The biggest thing I learned from the bio was that Hathaway was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Despite continuing to record, his mental health steadily declined and he took his own life in 1979, when he was 33 years old.

In the biography, Hathaway's wife expressed frustration with people who worked with him towards the end of his life. She thought that he shouldn't have been working, given the severity of his illness. Despite the fact that Hathaway's voice and musical ability remained strong up until his death, his wife was more concerned with his well-being—which got progressively worse.

It's interesting how someone who was so troubled that he couldn't enjoy the fruit of his gifts is so revered by people who never knew him. Sometimes our relational distance from someone allows us to treat people as commodities. We appreciate their gifts with little regard for their personal trials. It's only natural. The public was largely unaware of Donny Hathaway's sickness at the time, but had they known, I think they would have still celebrated his music.

As a matter of fact, when we come to understand what people's lives were/are really like, we can appreciate their gifts all the more. How amazing is it that a man suffering from one of the worst forms of mental illness could remain creative enough to produce timeless music?

Life is challenging for everyone in some way and it's remarkable that in the midst of those challenges God still gives us the ability to offer gifts to the world. Gifts that outlive any pain, frustration, or hardship. We should celebrate people's gifts, but we should also take note of the suffering and sacrifices that are often overlooked when those gifts are being shared with us.


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