When violinist David Garrett fell down the backstage stairs at London’s Barbican Hall several years ago, more was at risk than just his Adonis-like good looks. Encased on his back was his centuries old Guadagnini violin, the virtual extension of his prodigious musical hands.
Garrett, the “David Beckham of classical music” who has played with world class orchestras since he was in grade school, had paid a million dollars for this violin. When he reached the bottom of those stairs, the instrument was about in that many pieces.
David Garrett was shocked – heartbroken – but for his part chose to walk on the sunny side of the street in the aftermath. One, the fall could have killed him, he concluded, but he suffered only a broken ankle and some bruising. Two, the Guadagnini was insured, and though the repairs would cost more than a small Midwestern home, it could be fixed.
Three: Garrett was offered a “backup” instrument to play in the hiatus. It was a Stradivarius, a near priceless work of art, that was accompanied by its own three-person security team (The owner couldn’t afford to have his instrument flailing down music hall stairs, could he?). And in time, largely because of the publicity from his fall, David Garrett was able to acquire his own Stradivarius. One could say that all’s well that ends wells.
I don’t suspect that many Stradivarius owners are reading this column (there are less than 250 such violins in existence), but many of us know what it is like to end up with something priceless and beautiful on the backside of everything getting broken. When disaster struck, some terrible collapse, we thought it to be the worst possible thing that could happen, but it ended up being a grace, a gift disguised as disappointment. No, it doesn’t “work out” every time, but it does enough times, because we see the pulverizing, breaking moments of life breaking us open to new possibilities.
For example, countless people enjoy happy, fulfilling marriages today, possible only because of the disastrous relationships that preceded. Others live where they live – and love it – because the life they had somewhere else fell apart. Some have satisfying careers, not because they planned it, but because what they had always hoped and dreamed of doing failed to come to fruition.
Yes, there is squashing and squeezing, falling and breaking, shock and heartbreak; but these are often necessary to change and transform us. As Jesus said to his disciples, then and now, “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit.” Some form of crucifixion, it appears, is necessary to experience a resurrection.
The challenge is to let the suffering do its work. Don’t resist it; don’t try to avoid it; for we all will be broken time to time. Learn to be a good steward of your pain, and in the end, the words of Hemingway will prove to be true: “Many are strong at the broken places.”