My grandchildren are convinced that I test drive rental cars for a living, and that may not be as far from the truth as I’d like to argue. I travel extensively as a major part of my work in university advancement, so I’ve learned how to maximize my time on the road. As a general rule I stop by the public library the day before hitting the road and check-out an audio book on CD, as I learned early on in my rambling profession that listening helps keep me awake while I drive, just so long as the book is a page turner, so to speak. Last week I was preparing for another development trip but failed to make time to go by the library, so I countered with a contingency plan. On my way out of town I stopped by Cracker Barrel at the corner of Interstate 35 and Lakeshore Drive because they boast an audio book rental program in which you pay full price for the set of CDs and receive all but $3.95 upon its return. I’m admittedly cheap, so this is not my default approach.
I loaded the first CD and settled back in the driver’s seat to listen to “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak on my journey eastbound on Highway 31, but was thwarted because disk two was damaged. Frustrated and wanting to fill the silence with something beneficial, I tuned in the Dallas classical music FM station, and it just so happened that the morning’s broadcast of “Performance Today” centered around the story of Leo Fleisher. In 1964, Leon Fleisher’s career as a concert pianist was thriving. He had an exclusive recording contract with Columbia Masterworks and was particularly well known for his interpretations of the piano concerti of Brahms and Beethoven, which he recorded with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. But then, the unthinkable happened. A seemingly minor accident – a cut on his right thumb – led to a condition called focal dystonia, the involuntary curling of his right hand’s ring and little fingers. In despair he refused to shave or cut his hair, and because he couldn’t afford a motorcycle, he drove around town with no particular purpose on a used Vespa. He saw the end of his marriage along with a promising career, until he began conducting, teaching, and playing compositions for the left hand. About ten years ago, Fleisher was able to ameliorate his focal dystonia symptoms after therapy call Rolfing and experimental Botox injections to the point where he could play with both hands again. In 2004, Vanguard Classics released Leon Fleisher’s first “two-handed” recording since the 1960s, entitled “Two Hands”, to critical acclaim. Fleisher received the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors.
As I sat on the edge of the driver’s seat enthralled by the dramatic story with a powerful ending and listened to a moving recent two-handed performance by Fleisher at age seventy, I couldn’t stop thinking about the years during which an award winning concert pianist was confined to playing with only one hand, and I could not help but see a parallel with much of my own life. While full of grace and empowered by God’s Spirit, I have too often allowed spiritual paper cuts to sideline and render my testimony impotent. An unkind word, unthinking rebuke, a failed attempt, a disillusioning relationship; with relative ease I decline to being a ‘Left-hand only’ Christian, an army of one waiting to be unleashed, self-immobilized by pride and disappointment. It is high time to lower myself and surrender both hands and my whole heart, to do whatever is required to live the “two-handed” disciple’s life. Perhaps you’re like me, tired of living with one hand tied behind your back. Accept God’s grace, forgive yourself and anyone else who has inflicted a cut, and play on with both hands.