In a Nutshell: There are some days when parenting stretches us to the limit. Sometimes there just isn’t much left to give…and that’s when the magic happens.
I heard a wonderful violinist play this weekend and it brought my mind back to a story I love, written by Jack Riemer of the Houston Chronicle. There are some days when the day isn’t gone yet, but my reserves of energy, creativity, and patience are. I sometimes remember this lesson.
On Nov. 18, 1998, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with 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. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.
By now, the audience is used to the ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair.They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play. But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap – it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do.
People who were there that night thought to themselves: “We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage – to either find another violin or else find another string for this one.” But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And 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 from them that they had never made before.
When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done. He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone: “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
(Jack Riemer, Houston Chronicle)
I hope when you’ve had a day of parenting that leaves you feeling worn out and wondering how you can possibly survive another bedtime tantrum, teenage argument, or demand on your time, you can remember the line, “Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music he can still make with what he has left.” Your efforts to be gentle when you feel like yelling, to keep smiling when you feel like bawling, and to keep giving when you don’t have anything left to give may not get a standing ovation, but they even more impressive than playing an impossible symphony.
It is easy to be a good parent when the kids are giving you homemade cards and flowers from the garden. It is hard to be a good parent when you are fried from the demands of the day. That’s where parenting becomes an art. It’s when we can reach inside ourselves for whatever we have left, even though it may not be much, and still make something beautiful of the moment. Hold your baby tight, tickle your toddler, listen with full attention to your child, and tell your teenager how much you love them. Have self-control even when they don’t. And give yourself some well-deserved applause for making music with what you have left.