Recognizing life’s true winners
I want to share with you a story that is moving in many ways. It says a lot about our own children as they strive for success in a world that is throwing them many curve balls.
As the story goes, on Nov. 18, 1995, violinist Itzhak Perlman came on stage at the Lincoln Center in New York. This is no small achievement for him because he was stricken with Polio at a young age and has braces on both legs and has to use crutches. To see him walk one step at a time, painfully, yet majestically is an inspiration itself.
Once seated, he unlocked the clasps on his legs, tucked one foot back and extended the other foot forward, bent down and picked up the violin, put it under his chin, nodded to the conductor and proceeded 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 like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what he had to do. People figured he would have to get up, put on the claps, pick up his crutches and limp off stage to find another violin.
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 left off. He played with such passion and power and purity as never heard before.
Anyone knows that it is near impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings, but 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.
When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. The people rose and cheered with an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. After the applause finally subsided, he rose and 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."
I used this anecdote because this year I have watched our young people perform in the spirit of competition through athletics, music, theater, etc. But, it really wasn't until the other night at a track meet that it hit me. Following one of the events, I spoke to a young man who just finished his event. In the course of the conversation, I found out he finished pretty close to last place but recorded a personal best. Then a little bit later during the hurdles, I watched as one of the athletes hit and fell on the track. Instead of quitting, he got up, bloody knees and all, and finished the race in last place. To me folks, that is a winner. It is real easy to always recognize those who finish in the top, but are we really recognizing the winners? I believe we cannot determine winners or losers by the outcome of the battle.
Looking back a month ago at the play performed by high school students, I was impressed at just how good our kids were. Now, would this play and cast be successful in New York? Who knows, but to me, I know they dedicated a large part of their life to this play and if you saw it and were like me, you loved it.
We are so very fortunate to have the student population we have, however, the same issues arise in the classroom. In all honesty, there are some students who go through school easier than others. They do well on assignments and take tests with ease while other students have to work very very hard to pass. Which one is the winner? Only you can make that determination because the world is full of opportunities. How these young people take advantage of these opportunities will establish their success.
I would like to thank that one student who in the classroom has to struggle, but works hard and is determined to make it. I want to thank that one athlete that fell during the race and had the courage to continue, knowing they would finish last. I want to thank that one athlete that went to bat and struck out, knowing a hit would win the game to at least try. Do we do this enough? I don't think so. If you are at a track meet, cheer for that kid who is dead last, for they are at least trying.