With What Remains

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, May 7, 2017

A life can be turned upside down with hurricane force or with the subtleness of a gentle breeze.  Social media and the evening news regularly provide visuals of the former:  cherished homes flattened in a few seconds by the raw power of a tornado. Property, mementos, sometimes lives swept away by raging floods. Numbness, shock, disbelief in the wake of tragedies and natural disasters.

The incremental and the less dramatic can also usher in a “new normal”.  A gradual thaw in a relationship, opening the way to more comfortable conversation. A change of perspective that carries fresh thinking. The dawning of a deep knowing that one is loved and being stretched to grow in relationship.

How to embrace change and transition, especially if the new normal is not of our own choosing?  How to integrate it into a life redirected?  How to do that with graciousness, hope, and creativity?

The revered violinist, Itzhak Perlman, once offered his audience an inspiring visual of embracing unexpected change.  Born in Israel, he was crippled by polio at a young age. As a result of his illness, he could walk only with great difficulty and the assistance of crutches, so in all of his concerts, he had to remain seated when he played the violin.

Once when Perlman was just at the beginning of a performance onstage in concert, a string snapped on his violin.  The audience held their collective breath, wondering what he would do.  Would he slowly and painfully limp off the stage and find a substitute violinplayer copyinstrument to play the music as written?  Instead, Perlman chose to continue playing and did the unthinkable: he played with only the three remaining strings of his violin.  When he finished, the audience rose in a standing ovation, awed by both his artistry and his presence of mind in the face of the unexpected.

When the applause finally subsided, Perlman was invited to speak.  He uttered only this single sentence:  “Our job is to make music with what remains.”

Clearly, he was not speaking of only the broken violin string. In a life impacted by illness and its subsequent limitations to his mobility, Perlman chose to reimagine and redesign his life to accommodate a new normal.  He was practiced in choosing to play with what was left, with whatever remained.

In the Easter Gospels, we read stories of the contemporary followers of Jesus who were struggling to embrace a new normal, the reality and the mystery of Jesus now risen, alive, and in their midst.  These disciples are often portrayed in their confusion as living the root meaning of the Old English word, bereft: robbed.  Robbed of the way life used to be, before the dying and rising of Jesus. Robbed of the Jesus they had become risingword copyaccustomed to experiencing.  Robbed in the sense of Mary Magdalene’s grief spoken through tears on Easter morning, “They have taken Jesus away and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”  No wonder the risen Jesus was so seldom recognized in those early resurrection days!  A new normal had taken place, and it invited a huge change of heart, a paradigm shift in how to relate to a Jesus whose face and presence were not so easily known.

In our own lives, we may or may not have already experienced dramatic life changes.  But most certainly at some time now or in the future, we’ll share in the universal experience of our own new normal, the challenge of adjusting or adapting to limitation or loss or diminishment or new patterns of living in the everyday.

In our new normal, we may be companioning a loved one whose life has been forever altered by a diagnosis.  We may be walking with a partner who is slowly moving away from us through dementia.  We may be struggling with the absence of cherished friends whose death demands that we create new rituals and routines apart from their familiar presence.  We may be growing a relationship that challenges us to move beyond our comfort zone.

It took discernment and courage for the disciples of Jesus to give themselves over to the reality of Jesus’ rising and to the changes his resurrection visited on their everyday living.  This same wisdom and largeness of heart is also asked of us in times of change as we enter into the in-betweenness of transition.  May the rising of Jesus in our time and place continue to encourage and sustain us.


In a time of stillness, reflect on a change or transition you’re living through at this moment.

What does this new normal look like, feel like, sound like?
What might be the learnings hidden in it?
Ask the risen Jesus for the grace to embrace this new normal with a patient and gracious heart.

Thank you for your prayerful support of the faculty retreat day at Immaculate Conception School, Annandale, NJ, on May 5.  My deep thanks to principal Cynthia Kitt and the wonderful staff who gathered to pray, reflect, and share wisdom. 

Please now hold in your prayer all who will be part of a Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA, May 19-21.


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4 thoughts on “With What Remains”

  1. Once again, Christine, your words hold a deep meaning. I pray for my daughter-in-law who has lost both of her parents within 8 months of each other. She is living a new normal. Please keep her in your prayers. Thanks. I look forward to your next posting.

    1. Kathy, I’m so sorry to hear of the painful new normal your daughter-in-law is living in her loss and grieving. She and all of you who love and care for her are held in my prayer.

  2. Love that sacred place– especially the Sheltering Tree. Blessings be upon you and all the retreatants.🙏🏼☀️🌳 Mary Joan

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