By Lloyd Graff
Today’s Machining Archives August 2007 Volume 03 Issue 08
Beverly Sills died July 2. She was a marvelous singer and humanitarian, but I will always remember a story attributed to her that has had a major impact on my life. Beverly was on one of those “If this is Sunday I must be in Salt Lake City” kinds of concert tours. The physical grind of moving yourself and your entourage on one of those marathon tours was exhausting. Not only did she have to travel, rehearse, and perform demanding operatic vocals, she also did promotional interviews with the local press.
At the end of the tour, she was in San Francisco for a matinee and a Sunday night performance. Herb Caen was the most important local columnist and he called on Beverly for an interview. She obliged with her usual graciousness.
After the chit chat Caen asked her about the marathon tour. He said, “Beverly, you have to do an afternoon performance, then a few hours later you have an 8 o’clock performance you have to do. How can you do it?”
She answered, “Herb, I don’t have to do it – I get to do it.”I can’t remember how many times I have repeated that line to myself, to my wife, to my children. The tiny shift of the words “have to” to “get to” can change a life from drudgery into grateful appreciation.
When I began a writing day today, thinking of the columns and Swarf I need to create I was tilting toward the “have to” mode. But then I remembered the Beverly Sills story, knowing that I wanted to write this ode to her after reading her obituary.
Perhaps it sounds corny or saccharine for a wrinkled used machinery peddler to be so stupidly upbeat, but I work on my sense of gratitude every day. I have a profound sense of “get to” when I start writing because I genuinely believe I am getting to use the gift of language and expression that is uniquely mine. As I get older and endure the infirmities that nick me, I am acutely conscious of the window I have to use my unique talents.
When I write this I am not feeling grandiose. I feel every person has a talent. The pity is that so often they never find it or lose the key to fulfilling it. My gift is using verbal intelligence. For Beverly Sills it was singing and interpreting music. My wife’s unique ability is to help children learn and connect with their special smarts. Jerry Levine writes in his book review about an autistic savant who can memorize 22,000 numbers and pick up a new language in a week.
Even for a practicing optimist, life throws boulders and explosives in one’s path. For me, approaching the day with a concrete image of personal gratitude for a grandchild’s giggle or a loving wife’s kiss can correct a maudlin drift toward despair or overwhelmedness. But it does take a conscious effort to pull myself away from the dark side.
My yoga instructor, Karen Nielson, advocates beginning the day with an “intention.” I believe this is another way to steer my reluctant butt toward happiness and fulfillment. I hope you indulge my Tony Robbins moment, but I actually believe this stuff. I spent a weekend many years ago with Tony – an egotist and showman, but you can learn from him. Every single day I observe people who live the “I have to” life. They complain their way through the day as they cynically tear down others. I get to remember Beverly Sills today, and I am grateful.