Doing Things You Think You Can't Do

While I was growing up, I always wanted to play in the school orchestra. I begged my mother, but she told me only rich kids played expensive instruments. So I sang in the choir instead. Singing didn’t cost anything. Well, I grew up, got married, and it took me thirty years to get all my children in school. I thought I’d missed my chance. Then at 52 I quit using old excuses and joined the New Horizons Orchestra. This is a unique orchestra. They welcome beginners.

When I began playing the violin, the music I produced resembled sick birds with scratchy sore throats - but I kept trying. As I practiced I felt areas of my brain wake up and form new connections. My fingers drummed note placements on my bed pillow at night. I heard the melody I was learning drifting through my mind at odd times, like when I was driving the car or doing the dishes. As the orchestra director gently guided us through our first elementary songs, there were moments when the music seemed to lift from the page and wrap around my heart. During the pauses, the moments of quiet between the notes, I felt aroused and elevated – like flying without leaving the ground. The learning process was not intimidating or humiliating; it was energizing, exhilarating and fun. After we played our first song in three parts, I jumped from my seat exclaiming, “We’re an orchestra! We make music!”

One woman had a brain tumor, resulting in the removal of large portions of her brain. She went into a deep depression that didn’t lift until her husband brought her to our orchestra. As she learned to play an instrument, her brain developed new pathways and many other abilities came back to her. An eighty-six year old woman crippled with arthritis also became a member of the orchestra. Though her fingers were gnarled, she persisted and learned to play the violin before she died.

We’re never too old, young, dumb or poor to learn something new. Studies show people rarely try anything new after the age of forty. Good grief, we have to be that old before we’re wise enough to let go of all the status symbols in our culture and start living an authentic life. It’s never time to have a midlife crisis. It’s always time to have an all-life awakening. An all-life awakening invites us to learn something new at every age.