Non Cents

“Mister Whitmore, that piano you sold me won’t play.  You’re going to fix it, aren’t you?”  The exasperated voice at the other end of the phone line proved to belong to a youngish mom who had purchased the used piano from me just months prior to her terse call.  I didn’t bother to correct her use of the wrong name, since I’ve long ago learned to overlook that all too common mistake.  I’ve also found that pointing out errors doesn’t help to smooth ruffled feathers, either.  I asked her a few questions to try and ascertain the problem, but her answers led to more confusion than before.  She told me that the piano had worked fine at first, but that one by one, the keys had stopped working.  When they were depressed, there was a clicking noise and then they wouldn’t go on down to activate the notes.  I knew that sometimes the key bed of a piano could shift because of changes in humidity, but it didn’t make sense that it would happen one or two keys at a time, until most of them were unusable.  It was certainly a poser.  “This is not my problem, it’s your problem!  You sold us a piano that doesn’t work right!”  I assured the out-of-sorts customer that we would indeed rectify the situation for her and told her to expect our technician soon.

I gave the real Mister Whitmore a call and asked him to go out and look at the piano for me.  The Lovely Lady’s father had tuned and regulated pianos for almost fifty years by then.  I was sure that he could find the source of the problem quickly for me.  He chuckled as he heard my description of the issue and told me that he didn’t want to speculate, but he was pretty confident he knew what was going on.  A time was set up to visit the ailing instrument and I awaited his verdict.  The afternoon of his appointment, I was anxious to hear his report.  It was frustrating when he came into the music store, still chuckling.  I hoped that he hadn’t annoyed my customer by making light of her problem, but my fears were for naught.

“Well, all it took to solve the mystery was a little sense,” the old joker quipped.  I didn’t get the joke, so he explained.  It seems that, when the piano keys were removed, between each key was at least one penny…two or more between some of them.  There were a couple of young boys who lived in the house and they had found that the pennies from their piggy bank fit nicely between the ivory keys on the new piece of furniture. They egged each other on until they had no more pennies left in their banks.  Then, every time they were handed another penny or two, they made a deposit.  That explained the clicking sound, as well as what was keeping the keys from being depressed.  Pennies!  Worthless little discs of copper clad zinc were keeping that thousand dollar piano from working at all! 

I hadn’t thought about the episode for awhile.  Then today, I received an email from my amplifier technician.  He informed me that he couldn’t make a repair on a particular guitar amplifier.  The customer would need to pick it up and either replace the unit or get a new power supply and integrated circuit board.  I asked what had caused such extensive damage to the amplifier.  His answer?  A penny had been dropped down through the top of the amplifier case and had fallen across the high voltage circuit, shorting it out, along with several other components.  A four hundred dollar amplifier – ruined because of one single penny!

As I think about the incongruity of the situation, I’m reminded that most of our lives are like that.  The tiny, insignificant events that occur almost daily seem to control and direct the majority of our actions and feelings.  Oh, I’m aware that many of us have huge events which also affect our existence, but somehow, we seem to understand the magnitude of these episodes and do our best to cope effectively with them.  The little things now…those, we don’t attach nearly as much importance to and consequently, we are derailed by the most minor of occurrences.

I remember how, as kids, we used to put pennies on the railroad tracks, the common belief being that if a train were stopped, it couldn’t roll again if the penny were right under its wheels.  Failing that, we would get a wonderful smashed penny anyway, so it was a win-win for us.  The myth has proved to be wrong, but we liked the idea of a great big locomotive being stymied by a tiny, thin penny.  It would seem that what has been shown to be untrue for those inanimate machines, is actually accurate for the living, breathing human beings.

I’ve seen marriages which have fallen apart, piece by piece; destroyed by tiny issues piled, one upon another, until the two parties involved could see no way to resolve the problems.  Just as with the pennies in the keyboard of that piano, they waited until the music stopped completely to look for answers and by then, it was too late.  Churches can (and have) split apart over the most idiotic things (carpet color springs to mind);  businesses fail most often because of a preponderance of small blunders and not any one large event.  You see, a sense of urgency drives us to deal with the large problems immediately.  The small issues seem to present no real danger and are left to fester and eat away at the foundations, eventually leading to complete disaster.

I’ve said before that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.  I think maybe we should at least address it.  As it turns out, over time, pennies can actually cause more problems than dollars.

I may think twice before offering my “two cents’ worth” the next time.  How about you?  A penny for your thoughts?

“For want of a nail, the horse was lost;
for want of the horse, the rider was lost; 
for want of the rider the battle was lost; 
for want of the battle, the kingdom was lost.  
And, all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
(Anonymous)

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”
(Luke 16:10 NLT)

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