The scrawny kid in the goofy cowboy boots was confused. That in itself was not an unusual situation, but this was different. He had gotten home without the horn coming along with him! How was that possible? He was sure he had carried it out to the portico where all the bus riders waited for the big yellow transport vehicles. He definitely remembered picking it up at the band room and lugging the ugly gray case all the way through the halls. He had a vivid picture in his mind of setting it down at the end of the concrete bench. After that, the memory got a little fuzzy. Maybe it was because he had spent the rest of his waiting time trying to impress Liz. Today was record day in English class and he had brought his Three Dog Night LP (or maybe it was his brother’s…the memory fails on some points). The pretty young thing was a little impressed with that and wanted to know what other albums he had at home. Sadly, it turned out that The Carpenters and Neil Diamond didn’t help him at all with her. He was attempting to recover from that little set back when Bus #23 arrived. Grabbing his books, the skinny boy ran to catch his ride. It stopped quite a ways down the lane from where the failed conquest had taken place. The race to the bus felt just like the retreat from defeat that it was.
That all seemed irrelevant now, since he was standing in his living room at home, forlorn and wondering where his horn was. Well, technically it wasn’t his. The band loaned horns such as this, due to the high cost of purchasing the expensive instruments, which would have cost something around fifteen hundred dollars when new. The one whose location he was desperately casting about to recall wasn’t anything close to new, but that wouldn’t make any difference to Mr. Zook, his band director. He had been assigned that horn and would be expected to have it in band class tomorrow! The worried young man could just envision sitting on the bench outside the band room waiting….Hold on! That was it! He had left it sitting at the end of the concrete bench under the bus portico at school when he ran for the bus at the last minute!
“Mom….” A quick ride to the school was no help. The horn wasn’t there. Gone. Someone had picked it up. It was either stolen or in the possession of someone who would get it back to the band room. Unfortunately, time would reveal that the former was the case. The horn had disappeared…for good, it seemed.
Calls were made. Reports were filed. On-duty teachers were asked if they had observed anything. Day after interminable day, for over a week, the lanky kid sat in band class without an instrument, feeling the glare of the band director. Mr. Zook had a mean glare, too! No one wanted to be in his bad graces. This episode was the second time this school year the kid had seen that glare from his band director; the first time being when he had opted to attend an ROTC event rather than an important band marching practice. The lost horn was strike two. There might not be an opportunity for the third strike.
Finally one afternoon, after a week and a half of stewing, Mr. Zook called the boy into his office. The teen was resigned to his fate. He would be ejected from band and would spend the rest of his school days paying for the missing horn. The woebegone kid stumbled into the office and stood there, unbelieving. Right in front of him, under the desk, was his horn case! Mr. Zook sat, fiddling with a pencil. “I’m not sure that I can trust you with the horn again,” he began, sternly. The boy almost didn’t hear his words, he was so ecstatic. It took a moment for the import of the words to sink in. Even though the horn was back, he might not be (back, that is). This wasn’t possible! He had assumed that his fate was tied to the horn. If it was gone forever, so was he. It was back where it belonged, so, surely he would be also…right? He stuttered out an objection, but Mr. Zook went on. “You haven’t lived up to my expectations so far. How do I know you’ll do any better?” At that moment, nothing seemed more important in the young man’s thoughts than the idea that he had to be in band! He still had no real answer, but he blurted out, “I’ll try my best,” and then waited for the pronouncement of his doom. The only reply came as Mr. Zook hooked the horn case with his foot and shoved it across the concrete floor to him. “Oh, go home and practice!” was all the gruff director said. And, with that, the ordeal was over.
But, was it? As with many memories which time cannot erase, this one keeps being replayed periodically. You see, there is a bigger lesson, as there frequently is in these little disasters we encounter throughout our lives. One begins to realize that, as with the missing horn, the tools we use to function throughout life are not ours, but are simply on loan. You only have to look at those who once were gifted, but have lost those assets for one reason or another, to understand. Cheerleaders are stricken with illness and confined to wheelchairs; brilliant intellectuals are reduced to babbling confusion when consumed by dementia; talented artists contract Parkinson’s disease and are unable to control their hands, much less their brushes; beauty deserts the aging beauty queen, with many discovering the futility of its subsequent pursuit. Everything we have in this life is fleeting; here one day and gone the next, often to our dismay. Carelessness frequently speeds its decay and loss.
The older we grow, the more precious become these giftings, and the less we take them for granted. I recall with amusement the answer my late father-in-law often gave when asked how he was. Instead of going into a depressing recital of all his aches and pains, he would often reply with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, I’m able to be up and around, and take nourishment.” We need to appreciate what is in our hands and use that to the best of our abilities while we are able to wield it. We guard it, yes. We hone our skills, certainly. But, we also understand that there are seasons in life for everything, and many talents are ours only for that season.
Don’t be distracted by the pretty things, as the skinny boy was; don’t take your eye off of the goal. Keep that gift near at hand and learn to excel at your craft. It has been loaned to you and will be required of you. Eventually, we all have to settle our accounts. Sooner or later, we’ll hear the Director say, “You haven’t lived up to my expectations.” Or, he’ll say, “Well done!”
I know which one I want to hear. Now, it’s time to go home and practice!
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning.”
(James 1:17 ASV)
“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing, that we see too late the one that is open.”
(Alexander Graham Bell~American inventor~1847-1922)