What Matters?

“You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”  Itzhak Perlman

Are you unemployed, underemployed, overemployed or work for multiple employers? Has this been a long-time situation? If so, I feel your pain. I have been where you are and I know how stressful and overwhelming it can feel. From within, it feels as if the world or your head may explode. It involves not only having a job, or the right job, it involves where and how you live, whether you can take care of yourself and your loved-ones, if you have enough or anything to eat, and your sense of self. This is a difficult position to be in and one that far too many people around the world face daily. While this matters, and it most definitely does, it is not at the top of my priority list.

This is a difficult position to be in…

I had a lesson weekend before last which caused me to reevaluate what matters. A 5:00 am Emergency Room visit required by significant gastrointestinal bleeding led to two nights in the hospital, a colonoscopy to repair a ruptured blood vessel and feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. While in the middle of this, I remained sanguine, but the day after I came home, the world fell on me. Physically and emotionally fragile, I had the time and impetus to think about life, my life. Despite this and other health issues, I am not unhappy with my life, although stress and pain often color my days. Still, I decided I needed to review my priorities, my approach to life and what matters? As I considered this, I decided to make a new list of, not rules, but directions, to life and living well.

Humor has always been part of my approach to life. I used to tell people there are only two rules in life. Rule number one: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule number two: It’s all small stuff. I believe there is some truth in this. It is a more humorous way of saying to not make mountains out of pebbles. The problem, of course, is that there are mountains in life as well. We live in a world that presents us daily with situations that put us into flight or fight response. Such physiological responses, make it difficult to keep life in perspective.

There is a distinct difference between getting hung up in traffic and knowing we will be late to an appointment or the start of your shift, and being charged by a ferocious predator. We believe we know this, but our body reacts in the same way to both. We must learn to distinguish, in the moment, and choose how and to what degree we react. When we over-react to what are ultimately annoyances, we find it nearly impossible, physically and mentally, to bring the extra effort required when faced with a real threat.

So, here is my list of directions to life.

  1. Take care of yourself.

If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone or anything else in the manner you should. Be confident. Follow your dreams.


  1. After taking care of yourself, help family, friends and coworkers take care of themselves.Helping others should be your next priority. Though unable to help everyone the way you’d like, random acts of kindness make the world a better place and you a better person. If you feel called to do more, you will find a way.
  2. Be Kind; slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Never knowingly hurt yourself through negative thinking or anyone by word or deed. Always be polite.

  1. Always remember: we are all the same on the inside. 

    No matter their race, religion, nationality, gender, political affiliation or sexual preference, each person you meet struggles in ways you may never know or understand, loves as fiercely and passionately as you do and dreams of a better life for those they love and themselves. They are also meeting you, hopefully with the same understanding.

  2. Know what you do not know.

While there are times when fake it till you make it is the correct approach, it can also lead to disaster. Never be afraid to ask questions, to listen to those who know more than you do, or to hire those who may eventually surpass you.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

    Though this rule has moved down five places on my list, it is still important.

[The] difference between getting hung up in traffic and being charged by a ferocious predator…

These directions apply throughout life, at home, at work and anywhere you may travel or live. You may have nodded, snorted in disbelief or already imagined ways to apply some of my directions. For those who believe I may be onto something, go forth and sublimate. For the cynics and doubters, approach my directions as a scientific experiment. Put my directions into actions to search for the empirical proof of their effectiveness. Even if you decide I’m wrong, for the time you undertake my experiment, I believe the world will be a better place and you will be a better person.

Every day, we are worn away…

Now, to expand on the quote I placed at the beginning. When those of you familiar with Perlman and the limitations childhood polio placed upon him, may have thought that this quote referred to his disability. Instead, he said it after a 1985 concert, most of which he played with only three strings on his violin, instead of four. Musicians everywhere will tell you that it’s not possible to play a symphony on a violin with only three stings, but on that November night at Avery Fischer Hall, Itzhak Perlman did just that. So how does that apply to you, to us? I believe that, we too, are playing our lives with only three strings. As we age, we begin to be less flexible physically and mentally. The world financial crisis, terrorists, random shootings, death and destruction fill our news and social media, combined with traffic, worry and continual influx of constant information, exaggerates this. Every day, we are worn away until we become like that violin with only three strings. I think the ending of the original story I read about this says it as well as it might be said. I do not know who this person may be, though I would be glad to give them proper attribution. They said:

“And who knows? Perhaps that is the definition of life – Not just for artists but for all of us. Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings; so he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any that he had ever made before, when he had four strings.

So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.” ~ Source Unknown


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