Life's Lessons

You know, sometimes you just have to see how much music you can still make with what you have left.

Itzhak Perlman

The time is a night just about twenty-five years ago, and the place is one of the largest concert halls in New York City. Walking across the stage, slowly and haltingly, is a man using two crutches, and somehow still managing to carry a bow and violin. The man is Itzhak Perlman, one of the finest concert violinists of the last fifty years. He sits down, places his crutches on the floor beside him, puts the violin to his chin, nods to the conductor, and begins to play.

However, after playing only a few bars, one of the strings of his violin breaks. You can hear it snap throughout the entire hall. The orchestra stops; there is total silence. What will he do? Get another violin, take time to replace the broken string, leave the stage? For a moment nothing happens. The violinist just sits there, his eyes closed. Finally, after a few very long seconds, he signals to the conductor to begin again; and the orchestra — and he — continue, right from where they had left off.

Everyone knows that you cannot play a symphony on a violin with only three strings. But, that night, Itzhak Perlman refuses to admit that. You can see him modulating, changing, adapting the piece in his head, as he plays. Somehow, he manages to produce from those three remaining strings music that they have never made before. And, when he finishes, there is stunned silence in the hall.

Then there follows an extraordinary burst of applause, an ovation which does not stop — until finally Perlman raises his bow, asking for silence. Then in a quiet, almost reverential tone, he says …

“You know, sometimes you just have to see how much music you can still make with what you have left”.

The setting changes. We are now the ones occupying the stage — you and I, your family and mine. The symphony is still playing. Yet, just as was twenty-five years ago — there are strings still missing on the violin this day, especially because of the pandemic which has changed so much in so many lives. Maybe I have been ill or have had some surgery delayed because of COVID. My job may have disappeared, and yet my mortgage and car payments continue. Perhaps business isn’t doing so well, and you have a family to care for. Perhaps you failed a few papers in your final exams. These and many more could be the strings missing in my life and your life.

But perhaps this day, I am called to be the violinist and to focus on the music that I can still make. Maybe I am asked to turn my mind and my heart to that which I still do possess — my faith, my health, my security, my family, my friends. My list will be my own. But, if I look deeply, and let others help me, I will find that there are still strings on my violin — and I am called to play the strings which remain.

Yes, like Perlman, I too can learn how much music I can still make with what I have left.

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