I glanced at the clarinet case which the young lady had set upon my counter top. “It was fine when I put it away for the summer,” she averred. I asked her what was wrong with it now. “I don’t know! It won’t play anything except a high-pitched squeak.” Now, those of you who know clarinets, know that it is the best instrument in the band on which to play the high-pitched squeak. If ever there was an instrument custom-built for sounding the high pitched squeak, the clarinet is it. But, I can’t afford to get sidetracked here. The young lady knew how to play a clarinet. This one worked fine when it went into her closet in May, but now in September, it responded to her manipulations with a constant and unwelcome high-pitched squeak.
“Let’s take a look,” I said, opening the lid. With a peremptory glance inside the case, I winced involuntarily. All it took was a couple of seconds and I was sure of the cause of her problems. Scattered around the black interior of the case was a whitish powder. It was most prevalent right along the place where the pad cups rested in the case, leading me to the obvious conclusion that the young lady’s clarinet had been attacked by the larvae of bugs which feed on wool, the material which supplies the padding for most traditional clarinet pads. Since the little critters love the dark and damp, a closet is prime real estate for them to find and make a feast of anything left there. I like to think that an instrument case left in a closet is very much like a luxury hotel placed in a highly popular vacation spot for these wool munchers. If the dark and damp of your closet is good, then the darker and damper of the case is perfect! The larvae often wreak the same kind of damage to your sweaters and suits in the warmer months too, in between times of heavy usage. Technically, they are called “carpet beetles” and they are present in most homes. While the adult stage of this little varmint is only ten to twenty days, the larval stage can be up to 370 days! Just in case you were wondering, that’s the stage where they eat. And eat. And eat. Whatever we leave in the dark damp places for them.
There was a day when I would have asked the young lady what her band director had expected from her in the way of practice over the summer months. You see, if she had practiced the instrument regularly, the chances of damage like this would be miniscule. The bugs (and therefore their larvae) hate light and will not stay in a location which is open to either sunlight or artificial light on a regular basis. Just like the old joke that asks what it takes to get to Carnegie Hall, all it takes to avoid these voracious little pad crunchers is to practice, practice, practice. Over the years though, I’ve become a bit more circumspect in my questioning of teenagers when it comes to embarrassing subjects, simply because I want them to feel comfortable coming back to me the next time they have a problem. Therefore, I speak of the bug’s damage in generic terms, plainly enough that she will get the point, but not so pointedly that her spirit is crushed and finds ways to avoid further contact with insensitive music shop proprietors in the future.
I will tell you today that the unvarnished truth is that the two hundred dollar repair job we will be doing on the young lady’s clarinet could have easily been avoided if she had done what she knew was expected of her. It’s the kind of unvarnished truth we all need to remember daily. It’s also the kind of truth which we forget frequently, simply because we don’t like to do the things we know are right for us to do. If I do my bookwork daily, I don’t forget to pay my accounts. But, I don’t…so I do. If I do my repairs instead of spending time enjoying myself with social networking on the Internet, customers don’t come in angry because their instrument is still unusable after weeks of waiting. But, I don’t…and they do.
Here’s the bottom line…Actions have consequences. We may not see them immediately. It is possible that we may not see them at all. That doesn’t mean the consequences don’t occur. I thought of this principle today when one of my grandsons left the area of the toy cupboard in haste. He never realized that as he passed by, he bumped the step stool which stands against the wall in that room. It fell over with a resounding crash, but he was already outside, demanding a ride on the back of the tricycle his brother was pedaling down the sidewalk. Since he didn’t hear or see the crash, does that mean that he didn’t cause it? Of course not! Just because we don’t see the results of our unthinking actions (or inaction), they still occur and we are still responsible.
The implications of this lesson are legion and I can’t begin to enumerate all of them. I’m not even going to try. You’ll know best how to apply the lesson if you decide to take it to heart. Of course, if you need help with the bugs, I’ll be glad to help. I’ll even try to bite my tongue about the cause. Since I’ve got an infestation of my own, maybe we can work to shine the light on the problems together.
“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”
(Romans 7:15~New Living Translation)
It takes less time to do a thing right than it does to explain why you did it wrong.”
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~American poet~1807-1882)