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COLUMN: Attitudes make all the difference

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By John Lapp

The story is told of the colorful, 19th-century gifted violinist, Niccolo Paganini, who was performing before a packed house, playing a difficult piece of music, accompanied by a full orchestra giving him magnificent support. But ... suddenly one string on his violin snapped and, of course hung down, from his violin.
While reportedly he began to perspire, he continued to play beautifully.
Soon, another string popped, and then a third string. Now, here was the master violinist with only one string left.
What must be done, he did. He reportedly nodded to the conductor to begin the expected encore, turned back to the crowd, shouted “Paganini ... and one string!”
He finished the piece on one string while the conductor and the audience were reportedly shaking their heads in amazement. He showed a true attitude of both fortitude and gratitude for the audience who heard him play.
That type of attitude was also displayed by one bearing the name of Dr. Victor Frankl, a bold and courageous Jewish man who became a prisoner of war by the Nazis before he was finally liberated. They had stripped him of everything considered valuable, had lost his freedom, his home, his family and all his possessions. What Frankl did about his plight in life was directed by his attitude. Should he be bitter or forgive, a difficult choice to make.
All of his possessions were taken from him, but no one could take away the choices he still had within himself. Should he give up, or should he go on with life as it now was?
Reportedly, this great man decided to go on.
That same thing happened to Father John Mears, my brother-in-law, married to my wife’s older sister. Both of them had lost previous partners through death. John has written his memoirs in a wonderful book entitled, “The Philippine Years,” while he and his wife at the time, along with their infant daughter, were prisoners of war in the Philippine Islands under Japanese control for several years in World War II.
To read the book is wonderful, but conversing with him about those years made it more real. During several conversations we had, he recalled very painful, yet wonderful memories as God took him and his family through those difficult years. He kept on ministering to those who were also captives, never leaving his calling as an Episcopal priest, now with a different congregation than he had ever anticipated.
Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. I read recently a regular monthly magazine published by the U.S. Marine Corps, of which I served for six years 1957-1963. In the magazine, several stories were presented on how some combat Marines, coming out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or another similar type of malady.
Some of the Marines have survived quite well, while many others have committed suicide, not overcoming the insufferable affects it had on their lives.
Someone said, many years ago, “life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.” How else could we explain how one athlete responds differently than another athlete, both with the same injury and both about the same age, and both in excellent physical health? One of them gets back into the game, while the other struggles with getting better, and maybe never gets back into the game.
It seems that attitudes are very important in life. Maybe we’ve all had something comparable to what happened to the violinist — all we have left is one string. When your attitude is right, there seems to be no barrier, or challenge, or dream, or plan you can’t overcome.
If the violinist had only concentrated on the frustration of the other three strings that had popped, he may have thrown his violin down on the stage, stomped off in anger, frustration and embarrassment and left his audience feeling sorry for him, but no. He finished the piece the only way he knew how ... he played his violin with fervor on the only thing he had left: one string. Circumstances happen that could easily crush all of us, but how is it that some are able to work through the circumstances as a challenge and seem to come through those times victoriously, while others crumble under the crush?
Often for the latter group the only choices seem to be blame or self-pity. Not until we stop blaming will we start enjoying a healthy measure of both health and happiness.
Sometimes when this comes, we curl up in a fetal position and invite ourselves to a short-term or long-term pity party.
Finally, a personal word for some of you. You are capable, you are also intelligent, and you may also be very competent. But, your attitude is getting in your way of being successful and being able to enjoy life to its fullest. You can choose to change that.
You may need to talk to a counselor about how to go about making that change, or at least to a close friend who has your best interest at heart. Of course you may have a trusted relative who knows how to listen, as well as advise, and talking to that person or those persons may do you well and serve some important needs in your life.
Life has much more to offer you than to sit in the middle of your pity, and self-loathing. Begin to get onto better things in life before life takes its toll. Play hard, and play again and again on that one string you have left.
May God bless you and your one string. Maybe someday you’ll get a new violin and be able to play to your heart’s content. For more information, call 477-2818.