Life's about making music with what's left over

Itzhak Perlman is one of the world's greatest violinists. Though I have watched his concerts on TV, I wish I could have been present for his live concert on Nov. 18, 1995, at Lincoln Center in New York City, when a miracle seemed to occur.

Because of polio, Perlman wears heavy braces on both legs and walks with crutches. His walk across the stage is always painfully slow. When he reached his chair, he put down his crutches, loosened the braces, put one foot behind him, extended the other forward, picked up his violin, put it under his chin, nodded to the director and began to play.

That time, however, something went terribly wrong. He had played only a few measures when there was a loud pop. The audience heard it and gave a concerted gasp. What would he do? Would he pick up his crutches and leave the stage in search of another violin or at least a new string? Neither. He sat still for a few moments, closed his eyes, and to the amazement of everyone present, he signaled the director and began to play on three strings.

His audience knew it was impossible to recompose the music in his mind as he played, but Perlman didn't believe that, and he gave a flawless performance. He played the entire piece with power and passion on just three strings.

When he finished, there wasn't just the usual applause. People jumped to their feet, cheering wildly to show their appreciation for what he had done. As he mopped perspiration from his brow, Perlman said, "Sometimes it's the artist's task to see how much music you can make with what you have left."

Life seems to throw such a challenge to each of us when we face tragedy, failure, great disappointment or loss. Some people recompose music while they play on the three strings they have left.

Others follow the example of one man in the biblical parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-18). Either because of fear or resentment that he had received only one talent, he buried his talent and refused to make music with the small amount.

I have a friend in the latter category who, until three years ago, was a radiant, full-of- faith professional tennis player. Involved in a terrible automobile accident, she lived, but her right arm was so damaged that it required amputation below the elbow. All of her friends expected, especially since she's a person of faith, that she would go through a period of grief but would allow God's grace to comfort her and help her reframe her life while still singing. Sadly, she is focused so completely on resentment of the man who caused the accident that she is becoming a bitter recluse.

I'm totally convinced what happens to us is not nearly as important as how we react to what happened. So, what's your reaction? Can you make music with what you have left?

Nell Mohney is a Christian author, motivational speaker and seminar leader. She may be reached at

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