for release July 6, 2001
by Melodie Davis
What Can You Do With What You Have?
Itzhak Perlman, the great violinist, was performing at the Lincoln Center in New York City in 1995 when he had to deal with an extra predicament.
"If you have ever been to a Perlman concert," Jack Riemer of the Houston Chronicle writes, "you know that [just] getting on stage is no small achievement." Perlman had polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches. "To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an unforgettable sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward."
On this particular night, just as he finished his first couple bars of music, a string broke on his violin. "You could hear it snap; it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant."
The audience expected Perlman or someone to go get another violin or another string. "Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes, and then signaled the conductor to begin again," writes Riemer. "He played with such passion and such power and such purity as they had never heard before. Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds that they had never made before."
When the piece was finished, the audience was silent for a moment, and then rose and cheered as one, from every corner of the auditorium. After a moment Perlman smiled, raised his bow to quiet the crowd, and then he said, not boastfully, "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."
When my second daughter graduated from high school in June, my dad and mom were able to join us for a long weekend to attend the festivities. The school had made many extra handicapped parking spaces available which we appreciated greatly, as my 84-year-old dad is only able to walk with the aid of two canes. But when I first looked at that great expanse of football field between the closest parking lot and our seating at midfield, I thought, "Oh my, I don't know if Dad can make it."
I don't get to be around my dad very much, so I wasn't very aware of what distances he could comfortably travel. I thought maybe we should have borrowed a wheelchair, or perhaps asked to drive on to the field. Yet Dad would have hated such a fuss. So, like Perlman, he just plowed ahead, slowly, one step at a time (although Dad says he doesn't really have any pain when he walks).
I was reminded of my daughter's own journey to graduation. While she was always a good student, she never qualified for the "challenge" program for "gifted" students; she was talented and intelligent, but not a genius or prodigy. So, often I had to talk her through the first pages of getting an essay or research paper started. She would wail: "I can't do this! I write dumb! This sounds terrible." But I would tell her, that's okay, just get started, you can go back and fix it later. When it turned out that she was one of three valedictorians for her class, it was nice to see her hard work and steady effort rewarded.
Over the years I have learned never to take a child's graduation from high school for granted: there are just so many things that can happen that can derail them. And I often think of all the untold stories that are walking across the stage.
Perlman played with a busted string: sometimes these kids are struggling through their lives without their full equipment. They may be struggling with an unseen disability, an untimely divorce causing grades to plummet, a dumb mistake and unplanned pregnancy, or the nature to procrastinate. So the challenge is to see what they do with the cards they have been dealt. The good student, or worker - anyone - is one who sees what they can do with that they have.
Do you have a story of someone who have done a great deal with what they have, for a possible future column. Send to Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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