New Year’s revelations
By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebWell, we’ve lit the last Chanukah candle. Even though our holiday came so early on this year’s secular calendar, leaving us with almost a full month of 2013, my thoughts as always turn after our collective rededication to the coming New Year. It’s a personal challenge: What will I do with it? My friends have come through with some suggestions and good wishes.
One in California sent this inspiring true story. The great violinist Itzhak Perlman once made his way laboriously onto New York’s Lincoln Center stage, with crutches assisting his polio-stunted legs, and began soloing in a concerto. Almost immediately, one of the strings on his instrument snapped. The conductor stopped the orchestra and waited to see what the master musician wanted to do: Would he request a new string and make the repair himself?  Or would he ask for someone to bring him another violin?  Perlman sat quietly for a few moments with his eyes closed, and then — most surprisingly — signaled the conductor to begin again.
He resumed playing as if nothing had happened, flawlessly executing the entire concerto on his violin’s three remaining strings, transposing and reconfiguring the music as he went along.
When the piece ended, there was an awesome silence in the hall before the audience collectively rose to its feet, applauding and cheering. Perlman just smiled, raised his bow to quiet the crowd, 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.”
So few of us are artists of any kind, certainly not like Itzhak Perlman, but his words ring true for everyone. Each year, we are a year older. As we age, our powers — the ones we take for granted, like seeing and hearing, plus any special physical and mental talents we may be lucky enough to have — will diminish.  Then all of us have to figure out how much we can still make with whatever we have left.
My father, an old-fashioned doctor who passed away long before his own powers diminished, had always lived his too-short life by a personal credo similar to Perlman’s: “None of us knows what we’re going to get,” he used to say. “We get what we get. And the longer we live, the more we get. All we can do is take whatever life hands us and make the most we can of it.” As I age myself, and life hands me more and more that I could happily do without, I think often of these words. After all, what else is there to do? And so, I’ve come to live by them myself.
In the same spirit, an Arkansas friend sends this wisdom from Edgar W. Howe, a small-town newspaper editor who died back in 1937: “Life is like a game of cards. Reliability is the ace, industry the king, politeness the queen, thrift the jack. Common sense is playing to best advantage the cards you draw, and every day, as the game proceeds, you will find the Ace, King, Queen and Jack in your hand — and the opportunity to use them.”
A friend in Ohio quotes an unverified source: “There comes a time in your life to walk away from all the drama and the people who create it, and to surround yourself with those who make you laugh. In the year coming, forget the bad and focus on the good.  Love those who treat you right, pray for those who don’t, and always remember that falling down may be a part of life, but getting back up is truly living.”
So I pass on to all of you that advice, and these final good wishes from a Georgia friend: “I hope the Chanukah lights shone brightly at your Thanksgiving table, and may everyone be blessed with loving family and friends, good health and happiness, now and in 2014.”

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  1. Wendy S. Harpham, MD

    Wonderful column.
    Even though Snopes classifies the Perlman story as urban legend, the imagery and message are empowering. When unwanted change and loss make happiness seem impossible, we still can strive to make create meaningful and joyful moments through acceptance of the situation, extra effort and, if necessary, pain.
    Happy New Year. With hope, Wendy

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