I wasn’t able to wait on her right when she came in the door, but I recognized the familiar face and let her know that I would be with her soon. It was a few moments before I finished with the customer who was looking at guitars and moved to the counter where she stood patiently. I greeted her and asked how I could help her. I expected a request to see some guitar tuning machines, or possibly some fret wire. I had even sold her more than a few guitar, and banjo, and dulcimer, strings. Her talented husband was a cabinet maker who also built an amazing variety of stringed instruments – everything from the hurdy gurdy you see pictured on this page, to dulcimers, to bouzoukis. The request for instrument parts never came today.
Matter-of- factly, the gentle lady said, “You know he passed away.” I didn’t know. The tears in my eyes came unbidden, much as they do now as I write. I was stunned. I still am. Her husband was a rough cut, but warmhearted, man who loved what he did. He loved working in wood, and he was an artist at fashioning the material into musical instruments. Oh…that wasn’t how I would have described him when I first met him. I remember the first couple of items the aspiring instrument maker brought to me. The woodwork was good enough in the mountain dulcimers, but he didn’t have much of a grasp of the need to marry the art of cabinetry and the science of sound in the instruments he was attempting. Aesthetically they were acceptable, but musically, they weren’t up to the standards we were used to seeing in commercially made instruments. That was close to twenty years ago. He learned. And how! The last instruments he proudly brought into the store to show to us were fine examples of the instrument-maker’s craft. I am deeply saddened that I’ll never again have the experience of seeing the pride in his eyes as I admire the fine craftsmanship in one of his instruments. I will miss the discussions we have had many times of techniques, and styles, and the business side of marketing his creations. I will miss a friend.
I spent a few moments speaking with his widow about him and helped her with a question she had about one of his instruments and she was gone. Thirty-five years, she shared with him. If I am stunned about the sudden loss, she is devastated. Her world is shaken and, in her eyes, will never be set right. I am confident that time will change the anguish and her faith will aid in healing the loss, but she is struggling.
I was still thinking about the departure of my friend a couple hours later, when a young man came in with an item to sell. I recognized the piece and said so, not thinking about the direction the conversation would take us. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I remembered that I had sold the item to his brother just one day before he died, mere months ago. He was twenty-one. A fine guitarist, his music is now silenced (as far as we can hear). I mentioned him and his family in a post back in May entitled “Memorial Day”, in which I also talked about the sorrow of my grandson at the loss of our family dog. As the brother of the young man stood in front of me today, I saw a shadow cross his face at my reminder that the item he held had been purchased by his brother the day before he died. “That was the last time I saw him…right out here in your parking lot,” he said with glistening eyes. I remembered that this young man’s car had pulled up as his brother had left the store and that they had stood, leaning against the back bumper of his car and talked for ten or fifteen moments. As I considered the young man’s all-too-short life, and the empty place his passing has left in the hearts of those who loved him, my eyes filled again.
A couple of weeks ago, in my town and surrounding areas, homes and churches and businesses were shaken as an earthquake rippled under the earth’s surface. I felt the movement, noticed the light bulbs jingling in their shades and guitars jiggling on their mounts, and I even heard the whole earth almost groan as the wave passed. It wasn’t a disastrous quake. It did make me think…a lot. Where do you go when every safe place you trust is a potential trap? In hurricanes, folks head for storm shelters; in tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, we have our cellars and hall closets and “fraidy holes”. Not so with a severe earthquake. The buildings we have built as solidly as possible are likely to trap us, the cellars – to collapse. Even outside, there can be a danger of earth movement with sinkholes opening and rifts appearing. Where is the firm foundation on which we can place our faith for safety?
I’m guessing that you can connect the dots. We’ve got very few guarantees in this life. Relationships we think are rock-solid dissolve without warning, in moments. Friends and family members who were standing before us an instant before, seemingly healthy and immortal, are gone in the blink of our eye. Fortunes are lost, governments toppled, and we look on, stupefied. It seems that there is no safe place. Well, perhaps, just one. But, if you anticipate that it will keep you from sorrow and loss, that is not its promise. Not from, but through, is the promise this Safe Place makes to us. I don’t know why. I’ll ask someday.
In the meantime, I’m wondering if the music really died with my two friends. Nah, I’m pretty sure the song goes on, just in a different place. We have hope. It is enough.
Oh Joy, that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
(“Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go” by George Matheson~Scottish minister~1842-1906)