This primary assembly looks at personal injury and disappointment, and how to make the most of a bad situation

Rio Ferdinand’s knee injury is a personal disaster for him and a disappointment for England fans. When world famous concert pianist Murray Perahia cut his thumb, it turned out to be as big a disaster for him as that knee injury is for Rio.

The assembly uses both stories together to highlight the way that personal disappointment can come unexpectedly, making great demands on our emotional resources.

If you happen to have a child in school who is nursing an injury – with a bandage or a plaster or a temporary walking aid for example, invite them to join you at the start of the assembly to illustrate the introduction.

Any injury is annoying and inconvenient, especially if you have to go to hospital. But with luck, for most of us, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll manage as best we can, perhaps with a bandage or a plaster. We might even make jokes, and if we’re wearing a plaster we might get people to sign their names on it.

But if the injury directly affects the way you earn your living, or if it stops you from doing your favourite hobby, then it’s more than just an annoyance – it can be a real disaster. If you’re a sports star, for example, your career can come to a sudden halt – perhaps for ever, if you get the wrong kind of injury. Anyone know the name Gordon Banks? Banks was the England goalkeeper when England won the World Cup in 1966. Some say he was the best England goalkeeper ever. But in 1972 he lost the sight of one eye in a car accident, and had to stop playing. Most of us can manage with one eye, and live a normal life. We could probably still enjoy football or other sports. But a world class goalkeeper needs two world class eyes.

StoryReally this is two stories, about two people who have experienced real personal disappointment from injuries that wouldn’t have been nearly so serious to most of us here.

One, of course, is Rio Ferdinand. Now, what’s happened to him? Could someone tell us?

Yes, he was due to be Captain of England for the World Cup that’s happening now in South Africa. But only week before the tournament started, Rio injured his knee. And to make it worse, he didn’t injure himself in a match, it was in a training session. He was taken off to hospital and given a scan and told that he definitely was not going to be able to play in any of the games. How do you think he felt? Can you suggest some words to describe his feelings?

Yes, disappointment. But that’s not really strong enough I guess. Devastated? I think so. Crushed?

Do you think he went over the accident in his mind again and again? Do you think he’s still doing that, and going to be doing it for a long time? Yes, I think so.

Is there any point in doing that do you think? Probably not, because you can’t go back and change it. Although you might learn not to do the same thing next time. But there’ll come a moment when Rio will have to stop thinking about ‘What if I’d done this,’ or ‘What if I’d done that,’ or ‘If only I’d gone that way instead of this way.’ It’s natural to do that, but it can just make you feel worse and worse. So there comes a moment when you have to stop thinking those kinds of thoughts and start thinking of something else.

Now there’s one person whose story might be helpful to anyone like Rio who’s suffering from that kind of disappointment. His name is Murray Perahia and he’s a world famous pianist.

Murray was at the top of his career, playing concertos and solos across the world when, in 1991, he cut his right thumb. Some say it was a paper cut, others that he cut it on glass. We’re not sure because Murray doesn’t talk about it much. But either way it was the kind of little cut that any of us could get. Murray obviously thought it would get better, but it didn’t. It went septic, and his hand swelled up and stopped him from playing. And then the bones underneath got affected and he had to have operations. Of course his whole life depended on being able to use his hands, so something that would have been annoying and frustrating to you or me was a life-changing disaster for him. It didn’t go away quickly either. He didn’t play for four years, and even after he started again, his hand kept giving him trouble so he had to take breaks. Only in the last year or two has he really got back to his old form.

How did Murray react to his disappointment? Well, he didn’t sit around getting depressed. He decided to study the music he could no longer play, trying to understand it more deeply. He said that if you study the music without having to play it, ‘You get to the essence of what music is about. … A chance to study this without technical preoccupations, without worrying about your fourth finger or your fifth finger or whatever, it’s a very important opportunity because it gets you into the composer’s shoes.’

Now that’s quite remarkable, because here was Murray Perahia making something good out of the disaster that had happened to him. He could have gone around moaning and groaning and being angry – and maybe he did some of the time. Who could blame him? But he knew that this was something he couldn’t change. He couldn’t go back in time and avoid getting cut. It was no good saying, ‘If only I’d done something else’. He had to find something useful and challenging to do.

As a result he came back to the piano even better prepared, playing better than ever before. There’s no doubt that even though he’d filled in his time, he was glad to be back at the keyboard. He talked of, ‘The great joy of playing again and not taking something for granted that one took for granted one’s whole life.’

What are the lessons, then, for someone like Rio Ferdinand, or anyone who has a savage disappointment of that kind? Well, Murray Perahia sets a pretty good example of one way to do it. He knew he couldn’t play, so he studied his music instead, finding other ways of using his abilities through his mind and his imagination. Maybe an injured sports person can deepen their understanding of the game in the same sort of way, by studying other teams and players and tactics, so that when they come back, they’ll have more knowledge. That’s certainly better than sitting around going over what happened, wishing that it had all been different.

A prayer
Lord, we thank you for all our different abilities. Help us always to appreciate them and make the most of them. And give us the courage to face disappointments that can come to interrupt our enjoyment.

A thought
Sometimes a setback gives us time to think and find new ways forward.


This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010

About the author: Gerald Haigh