Years ago, I heard a story about the great violinist, Itzhak Perlman. I often share it during the talks I do about aging. Here is how it goes.
Mr. Perlman was playing a concert at Carnegie Hall. Just as he got settled in and began, one of the strings on his violin snapped with a loud, “twang”. The audience immediately became restless because they understood this would cause a long delay in the performance.
Due to polio in his youth, Mr. Perlman moves slowly. It would take a while for him to make his way backstage. Then, there would be a wait for the violin to be restrung. Finally, there would be his slow return to the stage. All the while, the audience would be stuck in their seats, waiting.
The unease within the hall built until calm began to spread from the front seats of the auditorium. Row by row the audience quieted as people realized the violinist was not leaving the stage; instead, he was still sitting there, head bowed in concentration.
Finally, Carnegie Hall was silent and Mr. Perlman began to play without the missing string. Those in attendance that night insisted it was one of the greatest concerts they had ever experienced. After he had taken his bows and the applause had died down, Mr. Perlman stood and made this statement, “It is the challenge of the artist to do as much as he can with whatever he has left.”
And so it is for those of us who are aging. Just like the violinist with the missing string, our challenge is to do as much as we can with whatever we have left. This is a matter of courage and will. Both flow from the closest thing there is to a fountain of youth. That fountain is a love of life and the desire to experience more of it.
Aging is a remarkable passage through time. Our bodies are wearing out, our usefulness is often challenged, and yet, deep inside is the unwrinkled soul we have always been, eager to have another day.
Maybe that is where our resilience comes from, for no matter what is thrown at us, we bounce back. We don’t always bounce back as high as we used to, but still back we come. On we go, making the most of what we have left.
The other day, I was in the shack of an 83 year old man. He had no hot water, hardly any furniture, and suffered from a skin disorder, which he described in a matter of fact way, like it was just a normal part of life. All alone, preparing to face the harsh, Vermont winter, with just enough wood split to make it to spring, he talked about the glorious beauty the snow always brings to his mountain.
As I looked into his wrinkled face I thought of Itzhak Perlman preparing to continue his concert at Carnegie Hall with one broken string. There are so many brave souls scattered across the hollows and hills of our Green Mountains, each simply doing what needs to be done with what they have left.
Aging in Place, it doesn’t happen by accident. Sometimes it is a long, tough haul and you have to muster the courage to do it, for that is the business of living.