Sometimes I try to fit a year’s worth of work in a month, or a week’s in a day. Because of this, the words of Yale School of Music professor Aldo Parisot resonated with me.
Parisot, who sat down with cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Woolsey Hall three days ago for a conversation during an evening concert, asserted that he was 60 years old when — by standard measurement—he was 93. Certainly, he had accomplished much more than many people ever hope to do in their lifetimes, debuting as a 12-year-old in Brazil and performing with some of the greatest American orchestras after only a few years of graduate study at Yale. But he didn’t seem to define his life by these accomplishments.
I wonder what distinguishes him in spirit from the millions of other talents who occupy our offices and schools. What separates those who live great lives from those who do great things in life? My real question is broad and fundamental: How should we really live?
Of course, I cannot begin to answer any fundamental questions based on experiences of — hopefully — less than a quarter of my life and an evening’s observation of a single distinguished man. But I’d like to try.
I do not think Parisot’s distinction lies in his great ambition (in a lilting accent, “I wanted to do something in my life — I wanted to succeed”) or in his ability to overcome difficulties (such as cleaning the latrines of Yale to earn money for food). Many people would say they have the same qualities. I also don’t attribute his distinction to natural genius, because not every genius lives well.
What I think does make Parisot stand out from the proverbial crowd, and what I most admire in the man I saw sitting on stage, is his complete lack of pretense. He does not deceive himself into thinking that he can do more than he can realistically do. It’s simple. And yet in my own life, I know that I often imagine myself doing all the things that I want to and feel like I should do — not the things I can actually do — such as taking six classes and getting enough sleep.
I think, or rather feel, that time can be manipulated and endlessly stretched. Parisot, on the other hand, has no such illusion. He appreciates both the constraints and the expansiveness of time, which is why, after 93 years of life, he “feel[s] 60 years old.” From my understanding of his talk, Parisot views life not with fear that he will not live up to expectations, but with the pleasure that he derives from living and making music. A lifetime to Parisot is not too short to fill with accomplishments but an ample amount of time to live a full life. When presented with a wooden pen for his distinguished career in music and teaching, he took a few moments out of his evening to make sure that it worked.
Parisot has also managed to live a life without any pretensions about his own abilities, to the amusement of me and other smiling audience members. When speaking about his teaching career, he claimed that he did not know what teaching was when he first began. When asked about his exploration of visual art, he claimed that despite having made over 3,000 paintings, he had no idea what he was doing. Parisot’s drive in life was not to do and understand everything but to satisfy his curiosity and attain a sense of fulfillment. In his own words, “It doesn’t matter how long who lasts.”
Yo-Yo Ma, for his part, demonstrated a remarkable affinity for his colleague, in both the thoughtful questions he asked and playful remarks he made. The two later performed a Haydn concerto, Ma playing his melodies to the fullest extent and Parisot conducting a gentle, unhurried tempo. Maybe I could have done something else more productive during those three hours, but for once in my busy life, I lost track of the inexorable tick of time and enjoyed just listening.
In the words of Yo-Yo Ma: “Maybe the final takeaway is [Parisot’s] actually 60 years old.” And certainly when I’m 93, I want to be 60 at heart.
Amanda Mei is a freshman in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.