It was a warm summer evening, filled with the same one-on-one conversation that had become the backbone of our friendship. At a critical moment he turned to me with wide eyes and animated arms.

“I’m not like you—you have talent. You can write, you can sing. I don’t have any talents.”

He was dead serious. But, more importantly, he was seriously blind; he couldn’t understand his own value beyond the more conventional definitions of “marketable” talents that parade across stages and appear under spotlights, the ones that fill up bank accounts and open huge lines of credit. To him, they were all living-it-up on the backs of magical gifts that he himself had been denied; they were riding waves of recognition, appreciation and validation that we all have come to envy. He didn’t get it, though. He didn’t see what I saw, what all of his friends knew, but perhaps, had trouble articulating. Like most people, he too, could not realize the true nature of talent: a rare and invaluable ability that someone possess and wields naturally.

When it occurred to me that this friend had no clue as to what his specific talent was, it got me thinking. I wondered what might happen if people knew about their hidden talents. What would happen if they could see those very subtle, but powerful abilities they possess, which make the world and the lives of those around them better. At this, I began to create a roster of those poeple in my life who I felt possessed such talents.

The Loyal One.

The friend in the story above is, hands down, the most loyal friend you could ever hope to have. The dude is just f*cking there for you. Period. Before I left for Japan, this was the guy that used to pull drunken boyfriends off of me at dance clubs, because their girlfriends all wanted to dance with me; I don’t have muscles, he does. When I returned from Japan he hosted a huge BBQ in my honor, for which he made a custom burger patty filled with mushrooms, garlic, onions, and a whole bunch of other crazy goodness I’d be hard-pressed not to confuse with crack. A few days after the event, I slipped into a strange mental downturn. In the shock of being back in my own culture and becoming inundated with the expectations that come with it, I felt mixed up, unmotivated, and isolated. Feeling that I needed to tell someone, I reached out to him via text. After only one sentence, he immediately interrupted me. He said, “I’m coming to pick you up”. Not, “Yea man, that sucks”; not, “Don’t worry things will be okay”; Not even, “Do you want to go do something”. He didn’t ask my permission—he did what needed to be done. He did what true friends do. There were no polite excuses about being busy; there were no attempts at offering a solution that would solve my problems; there were no axioms, poems, or catchphrases like “just do it”, or “go hard or go home”. I was home. And, all I needed was a friend to listen.

Throughout the car ride he stayed silent, listening to the tired slow rambling of my jet-lagged mind. I talked about my fears, my hopes, and my disappointments. And, after I was done, he offered the most relieving news.

“Look, you just got home. It’s been one week. You can’t expect everything to just happen so fast. You can’t do everything Matt…”

In more ways than one, this is what I needed to hear most: you can’t do everything. By the time he had finished reassuring me, jet-lag had caught up with me again. My eyes were closed and my words trailed off as my mind slipped deeply into a whirlwind of drowsy relief. And then he said, “I think it’s time to take you home.”

The Squeezer.

My girlfriend invited me to an Octoberfest outing during my first few months in Japan. At that time I had little friends and almost no social life, so, you can imagine how excited I was to know that I’d be meeting one of her Youtube acquaintances and his friends. When I strolled into the circle of males guzzling beer from an odd assortment of ceramic and glass mugs, I was immediately drawn to him. He was tall with dark skin and had an aura around him unlike any I had ever experienced before. Sharp-witted and quick-tongued, he weaved cultural references, slapstick humor, and cheap sexist mockery simultaneously into every sentence he uttered. And, if you weren’t quick enough, he’d finish your sentence for you—but, in a much more clever and humorous way than you could ever have imagined.

On the night I met him, within five minutes of conversing, the ring of men became absolutely inthralled in a riveting discussion over the RPG masterpiece, Final Fantasy VII. We stood in a circle, laughing and gasping as we relived one of the greatest games of our adolescence. We gulped beer down in the fading amber light of an October sunset, moved to a table, refilled our glasses, and continued well into a long night of pure merriment. It was, to this day, one of the greatest nights of my life (though the women weren’t particularly happy about being outshone by a video game that was over 10 years old).

What really shocked me was his social intelligence. Despite his compulsion for speaking often and loudly, he knows how conversations work; he can read people well, and he knows how and when to listen. He isn’t your typical group clown: overshadowing others ideas and cutting off their contributions to the mix in order to highlight his own showmanship. In fact, it’s just the opposite; he includes others, and can make good (and perhaps better) use of what everyone brings to the discussion.

The thing about this one friend is that his particular brand of wit and humor requires lots of energy and serious doses of concentrated attention to keep up. For some, this can become exhausting, as the party never seems to stop when he’s around. Some people might see him as too impulsive, too busy in the ways of conversation and socialization. They might find that his energy is just too much, too burdensome, too fast, childish, or careless. I don’t see him this way. For him, life is this amazing thing that needs to be explored and squeezed for every bit of happiness and enjoyment it contains. In those moments of intimate socialization with friends, he feels most alive. His wit and humor, jumping from person to person, comment to comment, action to action without skipping a beat—that’s the squeezing. He cares so much about his friends and about living, that he MUST do those things—even if it’s exhausting, even if others grow to despise him for it. It’s who he is. He sees life as a rare thing and puts major effort into it. And for that, I admire him.

The GateKeeper.

I know this next sentence will turn on people’s (Asshole Meters), though, I’m somewhat obligated to use it as a means to properly characterize this next person. Okay, here goes: It’s quite rare that someone is able to match me in discussions or debates. And, it’s not because I’m smarter than a lot of people; it’s just that sane people tend to lack the kind of endurance needed to keep pace with me. They usually just give up. I can debate for hours, and so, most of my victories come from being able to (literally) out-talk people. My one friend, whom I’ve known for about 7 years, is one of the few people that can kick my ass in a debate or discussion. He’s the only one who can withstand my rambling, passion, and endurance to such a degree that he’s able to catch up with me in time to find me chewing on my own tail. And believe me, I chew on my own tail often. He has an uncanny ability to cut through and untangle my passion in such ways that help me tie up loose ends (and expose dead ones).

But perhaps, more importantly, is his ability to discern what should be allowed and what shouldn’t. That is to say, he’s not going around trying to police everyone. That’s not his style. He understands how to be most effective and when efforts are futile. Not many things can cloud his logic, and so, he often makes decisions that consider context and the overall value of outcomes and actions. To be sure, his mind is a very busy place. I think he shines best, though, in his ability to juggle his gift for the sake of being humane. There are times when my passion needs to be tamed. And yet, there are other times: times when he’ll simply watch and listen as I stomp around on my front lawn at 2am with a beer in my hand, shouting at the top of my lungs while plowing through a verbal tirade of impassioned romance about how our pursuits to know death and love only means to make them impure. It was a silly night, but silly is okay. He didn’t need to stop me. And, for all our disagreements, he’s never held a grudge.

The Artist.

“Whatttttt?! That’s crazy…..” I blurted out in a tone that mixed confusion with curiosity.

It was the only reaction that came out when she had finished telling me the story about the time she let some guy douse her in paint. What was supposed to be a session that would render her apartment walls looking finished, turned into a strange erotic encounter that involved covering every inch of her naked body in paint before both of them fornicated in the remaining puddle. It wasn’t the strangest story I had ever heard, but it was one that raised the most fun questions. The story also happens to be an accurate picture of what kind of person my friend is. She’s a passionate artist with a sensitive touch on the pulse and impulse of life.

During the peak of our friendship she would talk about the fall as it approached, assuring me that she would be embracing her seasonal depression once more. Depression isn’t the sort of thing you hear about people embracing; you’re more likely to hear about how it destroys people’s lives under a mountain of pills and hospital bills. But, not my friend. She embraces it.

Every season she would wrap herself in layers and throw-blankets under the supervision of red wine and cigarette smoke. It happened that, over the course of our friendship, I would frequent her apartment where we would engage in “art sessions”. She would throw sketchbooks, pastels, pencils, and charcoal onto the living room carpet and leave me to my own devices. She didn’t have time to discuss what I should choose—she was already bathed in candle light, curled up in the nook of her couch and scribbling away in her sketchpad. We’d listen to funky porno-like music with lots of bass guitar, low toms, and rhode keys. And just as we sipped our way into the drunken stroll of a cheap merlot, we’d get riled up in passionate discussions that shunned elitism and welcomed possibilities. On nights when discussions were exhausted, she’d insist that we take sexy photos of each other for fun—if only to satisfy what little, secret vanity we kept. No one ever saw the pictures. It wasn’t about sex. It wasn’t about trying to be beautiful for the camera. It was about feeling beautiful for ourselves when no one else was watching.

Her blonde hair and blue eyes, together with her athletic build, make her an anomaly: a gorgeous face and body without the pretentious elitism of fashion and skin power meant to hold the rest of us hostage by her sexuality. She’s not the kind of person that means to control the world or those around her. She’s so completely open, knowing full-well that she invites both the good and the bad to enter. But most important, is her ability to really feel the wonder and awe that life has to offer—often marveling over moments most of us would consider unremarkable. That’s the kind of person she is.

Once, in glow of the moonlight that entered her apartment window near the couch, she smoked a cigarette while sipping her wine. I hate cigarettes. I hate smoking. But, somehow, for that moment, I didn’t. We were two dark shadows under a blackened sky, and the pale glow of a full moon was just enough to highlight our expressions. I curled up next to her as she puffed, and somehow, we both knew that whispering was the only appropriate means of speaking. I watched her face closely as she smoked. There was something about watching her enjoy herself that comforted me. When she noticed that my face was close, that my skin had touched hers, she turned towards me.

“Smoke it again…I want to watch you enjoy it…” I whispered.

She said nothing, but took a slow drag of cigarette at her lips. And, suddenly, all at once, her elegance overtook me and I had no choice but to celebrate the beautiful person that she is: I kissed her neck softly. When she finally opened her eyes to look at me, she smiled, and I could read her silence. She understood what it meant. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The Bottom Line.

Everyone has gifts. Though, truly, we need to look harder in order to really see the value in people—especially when their gift is something that others take for granted. I spent a lot of time thinking about how these four friends have inspired me and enriched my life. I hope that you’ll do the same, and make sure that those you cherish most know about how awesome they really are.