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30 April 2007 @ 10:22 am
Itzhak Perlman urban legend  
I got an email from an old friend this morning with a story about Itzhak Perlman continuing to play after a string broke on his violin. As the story goes, following his virtuoso performance on three strings and the audience's enthusiastic response, Perlman rose and 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."

Researchers at Snopes concluded the story to be false and labeled it "glurgy." (I had to look the word up.) I agree that the moral they drew from the tale was indeed glurgy but also wondered if they realized that their interpretation was a product of their own minds and not of anything inherent in the story:

"Just as the damaged violin, crippled by the lack of a string, can still produce beautiful music, so can the 'damaged' Itzhak Perlman, crippled by polio, still play the violin with "such power and purity as the world has never heard before."

When I read the account in my friend's email and felt moved by what I thought could be a true story, I did not read Perlman's broken string as a metaphor for his disability at all. My mental focus was on the three functioning strings and how Perlman's heart and talent permitted the audience to entirely forget about the broken one. Then I saw the three remaining strings as a metaphor for all the things in my life that still work. Almost certainly, at least with regard to the body, Perlman's purported remark touches me, a 52-year-old, more deeply than the 20-or-30-something writers for Snopes, and that could account somewhat for the different readings.

Snopes researchers render a great service, but this morning I realized that the information they offer is only a useful tool among many for  sorting out ideas, examining them deeply, and discerning what is most valuable, which isn't always the "truth" in the sense of what really happened. As Rafe Martin observes in an interview with Joseph Sorrentino ("Fairy Tales and Zen Riddles," Tricycle Magazine, Winter 2005),

"We don't know what really happened. And even though they're fictions, stories give us a doorway to truth, which is a great thing. Fiction is an untruth, but it's a lot truer than anything else we can say because it tells us about what's constant in the human experience -- fear, suffering, courage, compassion."

 
 
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