Counting Stitches

“Your integrity is in question and will be monitored!”  Now, wait a minute!  We’re not going through that again, are we?  The last time we talked, this was my opening statement.  Surely we don’t need to rehash that for another post.  The answer is a resounding no.  You already know that my mind wanders.  Tonight, although the starting point is the same, it would seem that a different path is opening before us.

I have read and re-read that post, as I am apt to do when the message has been especially impactful to me.  Each time, the opening line has hit me again.  I want to believe that the statement is not true.  My integrity speaks for itself.  Look at who I am.  Look at how I do business.  Look at what I say.  There is no question left about my integrity.  Right?  I guess you would have to say that it’s all in what you understand integrity to be.  I’ve discussed this before, but it has been awhile, so I’ll cover a little familiar territory as the mind continues to wander afield.  Don’t worry, we’ll arrive at our destination soon.

The very word “integrity” comes from the Latin “integritatem”, meaning oneness or whole.  The essence is that of a piece of  fabric, woven together with threads which fit into the pattern, each adding to the strength and beauty of the whole, until you have the completed product, the cloth.  Each choice we make is a thread which adds to the complete fabric, good choice upon good choice, decisions made with our intellect and heart, daily adding to the integrity of a life well lived.  But we can see that the problem with weaving or stitching anything is that, at any given point the pattern can be broken, regardless of what has come before.

I watch the Lovely Lady, sitting in her chair and placing stitches in her latest craft project.  The blank piece of neutral colored cloth is her canvas, awaiting each painstaking stitch.  For weeks–sometimes months–the blank cloth seems not much improved as she labors away.  Hours at a time, she counts the correct number of times the needle pushes through the “canvas”, her masterpiece looking nothing like the vision she has in her head of what it will become.  I cannot enumerate the times she has exclaimed unhappily, “Oh no!  I messed up a long way back!”  The result, although I can never pick out the error with my untrained eyes, is that she will remove every thread which has been placed in the cloth since the point of the offending stitch.  She makes certain to place that stitch correctly and follows from there again, retracing each painstaking in and out motion of the needle pulling the colored thread behind it, until the picture is finished, perfect in every detail.  There is a reason I don’t do needlework…

Why did she retrace her steps?  A lack of integrity.  No…I don’t mean a lack of integrity on her part.  I mean that the handwork demonstrated a lack of integrity.  There was a misstep, a momentary lapse on her part, possibly when she lifted her eyes from the masterpiece to look over the magnifying glasses at her husband making a silly joke.  Perhaps, just that little bit of inattention, coupled with the annoyance of hearing a bad pun, was enough to disturb her concentration.  Whatever the reason, correction needed to be achieved; thus the extra labor.  The result?  Integrity.  Beauty.  Perfection.

Maybe you men need a different illustration.  Not long ago, a young man brought in an electric guitar to be repaired.  It was a beautiful instrument.  The finish was gorgeous, with not a scratch to be seen anywhere.  The strings were clean and bright, with a nice, close action.  Here was a guitar that was the image of perfection, from the fit and finish, right down to the custom pickups and tuning machines.  “What could possibly be wrong with such a nice instrument?”  I inquired of the young man.  He answered that he didn’t know.  “I tune it with my electronic tuner.  Every string is exactly in tune.  Then, when I play the chords, they aren’t in tune.”  He was perplexed, but I was not.  As he spoke, I had been looking at the bridge saddles, the place where the strings make contact after coming through the body.  The sounding length of the strings begins here, stretching up to the top nut, next to the tuners.  On this particular guitar, the individual saddles were all in a perfectly straight line, seemingly in good order, but something was amiss.  “Were these saddles like this when you bought the guitar?”  I asked.  “No.  They were all messed up; one all the way out, the next one almost all the way back.  I straightened them out,”  came the answer from the bright young man.

“Well…there’s your problem,”  I replied.  I spent a few moments with a tuner and a screwdriver and brought the guitar back to the amplifier, where we played a chord or two on it again.  This time, the beautiful instrument played the chords in tune, all the way up and down the neck.  “But, the saddles are all out of place again,” complained the young man.  I explained the need for each string to play true to itself, the issue being that every string was not alike, the height from the neck was minutely different, even the material in the core of the strings was not completely consistent with the others.  All the variables forced us to compensate with the saddles, but the result was a guitar which played in tune with itself, and when tuned to standard pitch, with other instruments.  The formerly useless, albeit beautiful, guitar had become an eminently useable, and still beautiful, instrument.

All of this is to say, the integrity of the needlework project is in constant question.  The integrity of the guitar never stops needing to be monitored.  Every time the player picks it up, the tuning has to be touched up.  Every time the needlework is started anew, the Lovely Lady has to carefully calculate where she stopped and begin again, stitch by painstaking stitch, making a masterpiece out of a scrap of cloth and a myriad of different threads, the final product far exceeding the sum of the various materials.

Indeed, my integrity should always be in question.  Every day that I draw breath, stitches are being put into the fabric of my life, music is being played on the instrument of my heart.  A moment of distraction, I give in to the desire to align my heart with the wrong influences, and the fabric is flawed, the music out of tune.  Sometimes, when I look back, I see places that must be repaired, must be set right.  The process is not as simple as the Lovely Lady’s labor, the finished product never as perfect as it should have been, but the fabric is squared away, patches are placed, and we move forward once more.

How about it?  Any monitoring going on for you?  We walk this road of life with other people for more reasons than just to pat each other on the backs.  Sometimes, that companion will hurt us with a criticism, but it seems to me that the pain is more than compensated for with the reward.  There is little question; the integrity of the finished product is better off for it.

I’m fairly sure that the music will be a lot sweeter too.  Maybe you should keep that tuner handy, though.

“Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”
(Proverbs 27:6 NLT)

“All music jars, when the soul is out of tune.”
(Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra~Spanish Author~1547-1617)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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