The-Beggar-King-and-the-Secret-of-Happiness-Ben-Izzy-Joel-9781565125124I just finished an incredible book about story called “The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness” by Joel ben Izzy. Joel, a master storyteller, tells his story as it dances around other stories real and spiritual. While I highly recommend this book to everyone to read, there was one story within the story that I am still chewing on. On pages 186-188, Joel retells a true story about Itzhak Perlman that had appeared in the Houston Chronicle in an article written by Jack Riemer. Here is the column:

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On Nov. 18th, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came onstage for 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 onstage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a young 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, very deliberately, and slowly, is an event. 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 his 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 amble his way offstage-to either find another violin or else find another string for this one.”

But hie 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 ever corner of the auditorium. We were al 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 his 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…”

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ponder that one for a while…commentary is not necessary, simply make some music with what you have left and you will find success.

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