A series of flashbacks tell the story. Nine at night. Washing the extra dishes that wouldn’t fit in the dishwasher. A glass exploding in my hand. Blood spurting furiously on the counter, in the sink, down the drain. Driving to Urgent Care, a dish towel wrapped around my arm. Eleven stitches and a tetanus shot. And then the medical prognosis: No piano playing for two weeks.
Sitting in the examination room, feeling the dull tug of sutures around my thumb, I tried to corral the thoughts bouncing around my brain. I recalled the eight different gigs and rehearsals I had lined up over the next two weeks that would have to be cancelled or reworked. I recalled the different projects at home and at work that I could no longer work on. I recalled a conversation I had over twenty years ago with my father, who confessed to me that he had made me right-handed, though I had left-handed tendencies as a child.
Then there are the hundreds of questions I would inevitably face over the next few days. “What happened to your hand, Manuel?” Which of course obligates me to be creative with my responses: “Shark bite. A big shark. Actually, a gang of big sharks. Wearing leather jackets.” Thankfully, I am married to an amazing woman who knows the proper amount of self-aware wife doting necessary to keep me happy.
It was early the next morning—faced with actually getting ready for work with one hand—that I began to see this as an opportunity to practice what I preach regarding the arts. Art is defined, in part, by the limitations imposed upon it. A painting is defined, in part, by the size of the canvas. A film is defined, in part, by the camera, the story, the location. And a solo piano composition is defined, in part, by the number of fingers one has on one’s hands.
I remember someone explaining once that the hardest thing to write when authoring a story is the first word. Because once you commit to that first word, you’ve narrowed the possibilities of that story. The first word, first phrase, first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter—every word further limits what is possible, until there can only be an ending.
So all art is defined by the limitations of the particular art form of that art. Those who are great at their art have simply learned to embrace the limitations.
So, bandage in hand, I am embracing the limitations. I am rediscovering my left-handedness: Putting on contact lens, eating with a fork, doodling with a pencil, taking out the garbage. I am surrendering to my self-reliance: relying on others to play instruments, letting others move things for me, leading worship far away from the comfort of my piano, with only a microphone and my voice. And I am deliberately slowing myself down: giving myself more time to get ready in the morning, to eat meals, to type on my computer, to brush my teeth, to live life. In short, the eleven stitches in my hand have become a spiritual discipline that is bringing me before God.
The truth is, we all have limitations. Even our humanity is, by definition, a limitation. But it is also a wondrous and mysterious gift. And embracing our limitations—and understanding them as the gifts that they are—is simply one more step toward spiritual maturity.
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