This Thanksgiving, unlike last year’s, many of us are traveling to be with family, friends, and loved ones. The last time millions of us undertook such a journey was in 2019. Last year was different, and this year will be different because we can be with family both far and near. We can be with the family we couldn’t see last year because of the pandemic. We can be with the family we love, even if we vehemently disagree with them over a myriad of issues.
St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, encourages us with these words: “…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It seems a little condescending and unrealistic to give thanks when, especially, all the odds are stacked against you, when you needlessly lost a loved one because someone drove his car into a joyful parade. How do we give thanks?
Today, I want to share with you a story centered around Itzhak Perlman, a renowned American violinist who has won 15 Grammys and four Emmys. He is most celebrated for his live performances. Itzhak has had polio most of his life, and getting on stage to perform is a real challenge.
Itzhak’s most memorable performance was at the Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, on November 18, 1995. When he arrived on stage and started to play, there was a loud crack. The sound was unmistakable - one of Itzhak’s violin strings had snapped. But instead of stopping and picking up another violin, he simply paused, took a deep breath, and nodded to the conductor to continue.
Itzhak played with a gusto that no one had ever yet experienced from him. It was intense. It was passionate. It was as if the whole world was watching and counting on him to make the kind of music that soothes, comforts, and heals. The kind of music that lifts our spirits up and provides us with a reason to be thankful, even when we are playing on three strings instead of four.
His audience sat in awe; the hall fell silent. When it was over, everyone stood up with applause that could be heard within the walls and beyond. In the midst of the adulation, Itzhak raised his bow for silence. The hall went dead silent, and then he said, “You know, sometimes it’s the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.” It's this profound statement from Itzhak that reminds me of this aphorism:
"I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.”
This blessed Thanksgiving, a time when we will get the chance to sit together as family, friends, and loved ones, my question is, what do you have left? And for all that you have left, for all that you do not have, can you find it within you to make music with it? Can you find it within you to be thankful for it? Can you find within you the strength that notices all circumstances but isn’t defined by them? Can you find within you the resilience that overcomes obstacles?
The tragedy in our individual stories is that we often want everything to work the way we think it should work in order to find it useful or at least be thankful for it. We want to make sure that if a string snaps on our violin, we immediately have to have it fixed or replaced before we can make some sweet music with it. But life often doesn’t work like that. Life teaches us that we can still make music with what we have left.
Life is such that no one is ever given everything. There’s a story in Matthew’s gospel about the Parable of the Talents. I share that story with my second daughter almost every morning when I drop her off at her carpool. I remind her, it is not about how much you have, it is about what you do with what you have.
Life is about playing on three strings, even when you know you are supposed to be playing on four.
This Thanksgiving, I invite you to do yourself a favor. Think about all that you have been freely given - family, friends, relationships, talent, knowledge, experience, beauty, health, qualifications, anything. Remember this, even if one string is broken, you can make some good music out of it.
This Thanksgiving, remember that three strings are more than enough, and so be thankful and remain thankful to the God who makes all things possible in our lives.
This Thanksgiving, when you gather with family, friends, loved ones, or even by yourself to break bread, be thankful and remain thankful to the God who invites us to be thankful for all things and in all things.
This Thanksgiving, I wish you nothing but the very best of the season.