On Playing the Violin

In The Phantom Tollbooth, author Norton Juster wrote … “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”

I think back to when my now 18 year old nephew was 3. I wanted to buy him music lessons for his birthday because he showed a huge affinity for music, staring at the band at my wedding the whole night, watching the hands of the piano player at Nordstrom when we’d go shopping.

I called a community music center near my sister’s house and told them what I wanted to do. They said they had violin and guitar for kids that age, and asked what I preferred. I said I really didn’t know, did they have a recommendation? The woman I spoke with said she’d recommend violin. She said “it’s pretty much the hardest instrument to learn but kids don’t know that. And once they learn to play it, they can play anything.”

So what if we did the same thing as adults? What if we picked the hardest language to learn not knowing it was hard, and just did it? What if we quit our day job to pursue our dream of being a singer in a jazz club even though the odds were overwhelmingly not in our favor? Or packed up everything and moved across country to run a farm even if we’d never lived on one a day in our lives? What about if we decided to train for a marathon even though we were the kid always picked last in gym class? Or left a good-paying job to go to law school?

There’s so many limits placed on us, aren’t there? There’s the ones we place on ourselves. I can’t. I’m too old. Too slow. Too fat. Not smart enough.

The ones our families place on us, without even realizing what they’re doing most of the time. “She’s the smart one; he’s the athletic one.” “She’s the wild one. He’s so well-behaved.” “She’s our perfect girl.”

The ones society places on us. Grow up. Get a real job. It’s hard to learn a language when you’re an adult. You’ll throw your pension away.

Don’t you wonder what is at the bottom of all this limiting and defining? And why is it that kids don’t know about it until adults telk them they should?

I do. Wonder about that, I mean. But I also wonder if it is possible to stop. Stop the judging. And limiting. And criticizing. And just be whoever and whatever we want. At whatever age we want. No excuses.

I’d like to think it’s possible. And when I start to think it’s not, I remember a little three year old boy, dressed in a pint sized suit. Blond hair brushed. Cheeks scrubbed rosy. His name is called. He walks to the front of the church, teeny tiny violin in hand. He looks out at the audience, including his parents, aunts, uncles, grandma. A deep bow. A smile lights up his face. He lifts the violin to his shoulder. And he plays.


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