“There is no human being, however cowardly, who cannot become a hero for love.”


What wouldn’t we do for love? How far would anyone go to avoid the pain of a loved one? This is where courage comes in. Because courage is actually not an absence of fear; it is the awareness that there is something worth taking risks for. Courage allows us to put our energy, feelings, emotions and visions to work so that we can reach beyond where we imagine and transcend our own limits.

When I think of the power of courage, I often remember a story the clear-minded Argentinian writer Enrique Mariscal told me about the great violinist Itzhak Perlman during a concert he played at the Lincoln Centre in New York. I am not sure about the story being totally true, but no matter a bit fictional it might be, I would like to share it because its message is beautiful and powerful. Perlman had polio as a child and as a result of it he finds it very hard to move around. Even today, getting to the top of the stage is not easy for him and he plays his instrument in a seated position. On the day this happened, a large crowd filled the auditorium, expectantly waiting to hear his exquisite playing, and he went painfully to his place on the stage and sat down on his chair before them. He put his crutches aside and undid the straps around his legs and waist. Then he picked up his violin and placed it under his chin. But just as the orchestra director was giving the signal to start playing, something awful unexpectedly happened: one of his violin strings snapped.

The public heard the snapping and thought that the concert would be interrupted so that the string could be replaced. But, to the astonishment of the entire auditorium, Perlman decided that this would not happen. The crowd were moved to see him signal to the director to go on. And then the great violinist closed his eyes and went on to play as if both he and his instrument were in top form, giving and committing himself completely to his music and the audience.

It should be mentioned here that it is technically impossible to play a symphony with only three strings on a violin –except that the master violinist, in his genius, skill and bravery, pretended not to notice. Inspired and dedicated to his performance, he spontaneously created new harmonies which gave his interpretation an astounding beauty and value.

When his work was done, the public were stunned for a moment and sat in absolute silence. Enthusiastic clapping, whistling and shouts sounded out as the audience gave voice to their acknowledgement and admiration. Apparently, Perlman took a handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped the perspiration from his face and bowed in deep gratitude. Then he raised his bow to quieten the audience. After a couple of seconds, they fell silent again in expectation. Perlman looked out at them and said thoughtfully and reverently, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

The question Perlman put to his audience is one we should continuously apply to our lives: What can we do with what we have, with what we have left? If we take into account that we will always lack something; that there will always be something to improve; that we will often have to play our roles in life with less than a full set of strings… There it is, in the ability to give ourselves up to life with what we have now, incomplete, fragile, that true courage comes into play and we ask, What can we do with what we have left?

Perlman went on playing out of respect, courage and devotion, as Plato put it. He did not forget that his public had paid a considerable amount or travelled long miles for the chance to hear him play, and he felt he could not disappoint them. Probably, there can be no true courage without love.



Alex Rovira