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Senior Correspondent

It was one of those ‘feel-good’ emails. And reading it actually did make me feel good. Maybe you’ve seen it before …

It talked about the great violinist Itzhak Perlman who, because of childhood polio and leg braces, struggles to get to his chair on stage at Lincoln Center. Everyone waits patiently until he’s finally ready to share his musical magic.

One day, just as he began playing, the loud crack of a snapping violin string pierced through the melody. Would this mean him getting back up, struggling back across the stage to find another violin or a string to repair this one? Would the adoring audience have to wait some more?

After a moment of closed-eye concentration, Perlman signaled the conductor to start again.

The impossible feat he accomplished that night, of playing a symphony with just three strings, was a measure of his mastery … and of his unwillingness to admit defeat. The music? More beautiful, more sacred and more memorable than ever before.

He quieted the thunderous applause that followed with a gesture and softly said, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

Bringing It All Home

Mid-December was the beginning of what would look like a bad-luck streak. Not exactly for me. But seemingly for people all around me.

For me, pressure during the year had mounted, as one project piled on another. I had multitasked beyond belief, burning candles from both ends and from the middle. (Of course I knew better. But we’re infallible, right?) Short on sleep and emotionally drained, I was ready for some nurturing.

First, my best friend came from Europe to spend three relaxed weeks with me, to hang out in the Florida Keys, maybe hit the Yucatan, whatever moved us. This was exactly what I needed! And what she needed, because she was entering a major life transition.

But by day two, a first-time back pain sidelined all plans and we spent three weeks taking her to chiropractors and (eventually) orthopedic surgeons … when we weren’t running to the emergency room at 5 a.m. My frustration at not being able to do anything for her was palpable: I couldn’t heal her. Nothing I did would even lessen the pain from her herniated disk.

Then the husband of a childhood friend of mine, where we were originally going for Christmas dinner, tripped and broke his hip. The last thing an entrepreneurial business owner needed, especially one with a physically demanding business, was to be laid up in a hospital with a long recovery period ahead of him. Unable to work, unable to be there to move his company forward in a part of the economy that has not yet fully recovered.

Shortly thereafter I got the call that my sister’s husband had died very suddenly. As any of us would do, I gathered myself up and ran to take on any role I could, do anything to smooth a difficult time. Long drives, raw emotions, little sleep, disruptions and sadness. Another drain on my already limited resources.

What is amazing is how I was able to make it all about me.

Did you notice?

Yet none of it was about me. It was about others whose lives would be inexorably changed.

My friend will have to dig deep to face her life transition with the equivalent of one hand tied behind her back; the pain is a long way from being gone. My other friend’s husband will have to dig deep for the strength to recuperate the lost business activity once therapy finally permits it. And my sister will have to dig deep to face life alone after 47 years of marriage, totally unprepared because of the suddenness of her loss.

They will all be playing music with just three strings.

And something tells me all three will play music that is more beautiful, more sacred and more memorable than ever before.

So What About You?

What have you lost these past few years? What has not turned out as you expected? What has come out of the blue and ripped something comfortable — and reliable — out of your everyday life?

What of other people’s broken strings are you taking on as your own?

What have you allowed to steal the music from you?

Or have you learned how to play your heart out with just three strings?

Let me know in the comments section below what you’ve overcome that has turned out to be the steppingstone to a richer, more fulfilled life.

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