The story that Itzhak Perlman played a concert on a violin with only three strings appeared years ago. A string snapped and he finished the piece, “modulating and recomposing” in his head. Afterwards, Perlman was said to have offered this insight: “It’s the artist’s task to see what music you can still make with what you have left.”*
I think we find ourselves at times improvising with “what we have left.” We may have based a task or goal on certain emotional, mental or spiritual habits. They change. We find ourselves with only “three strings.” So how do we improvise with “what we have left” to stay focused on our goals?
I’m finding out. I have to admit a lot of bravado in my approach to water sports. I would boast to friends that if I ever capsized sailing, I would eventually drift to shore and get poison ivy. Kayaking? Who capsizes doing that?
Once I launched my sailboat when the wind was too strong, convinced I could handle it. The feeling of being on the edge of capsizing was terrifying. I made it, but that feeling hasn’t left me. Then I capsized my kayak, twice in deep water. Both times I scrambled to safety, but I remember panic as I fell into the river.
I’ve overcome those feelings to kayak regularly, but getting out my sailboat has been harder. I can’t blame the lousy weather totally…I have to admit my bravado is gone. Other life events have increased my feelings of vulnerability.
I’ll sail again, but I’ll have to improvise on three strings.
So, Lora, what ‘cha got left?
* There may be issues with this story. See Snopes.com for their research.
“Better to know a knot and not need it, than need a knot and not know it” is the enthusiastic motto of Animated Knots by Grog (TM). Knots have hundreds of creative names and a quick online check shows an International Guild of Knot Tyers, even knot historians. Who knew?
Knots can be part of an art work because they can be crafted into aesthetically appealing lines and shapes. If you work in fabric or wool you know how knots add beauty and texture to your work. Even knots for fly tying are not just functional, but quite beautiful.
As kids we learned the hard lessons of the granny knot. Other knots are elegant as they come undone, like the grief knot. There’s even an art to it: “It unravels elegantly: as tension is applied, the ropes rotate like little cogs, each one twisting to feed the rope through the knot.” (Wikipedia)
I don’t know about you, but when knots in my life have unraveled, it hasn’t been elegant or pretty. Not much “art” in evidence in that coming apart.
Other knots have had years of wind, weather and tension hardening them into shape, much like the knot on my sailboat’s main sheet (line.) When it finally gives, it won’t unravel, it will snap, and I’ll capsize. (Why I keep checking it.) Better to undo it and let the wind and weather relax it into a new shape. Better to catch it before.
Can I find elegance in the unraveling? Can I find the humility to undo the knot?
The wind had died and I was on my knees paddling my dinghy, bracing the tiller against my leg to keep the boat straight. When a puff of wind rippled the water I adjusted the sail to catch it, but soon was back to paddling.
But whether slowly bumping and sliding, sail limp, or driven by a brisk wind, a sailor has to remain constantly focused on wind direction and speed, the path of other boats, wave action, shallow water, and distance to shore. That’s one reason I love sailing. I am completely engrossed from launch to landing and unable to think about much else.
My other favorite water sport, kayaking, has its own rhythm and flow on lakes, but doesn’t demand the same concentration. (Rivers are another story!) In fact, often I allow my mind to wander and not into productive areas. I recall old frustrations, or try to puzzle through a perplexing problem. I finish physically spent, but too often not emotionally refreshed. When I sail, I arrive on shore exhilarated with hair standing up from being soaked and dried on the fly. For a while I am lost to the world: sailing is not that far from paradise.
Maybe this is “losing your mind” in a positive way. Do you have a hobby, work project, or activity that demands your total attention? Or said another way, that you focus your mind on and freely give yourself to? What do you discover in that absolute concentration? Next time I’ll tie in imagination and faith to this life-giving habit of mind.