Mirror, Mirror

We were having a pity party.  My friend, the bicycle technician, and I were talking shop.  I am excited that he has a new job doing what he has always loved to do.  He’s good at it, too!  After my cycling accident last year, he took my damaged steed and made it good as new with almost no effort.  I only wish he could have done the same for my head, but that’s a different story, isn’t it?  He loves to take in an ailing bike and return the same machine to his customers in top condition.  If you’ve ever worked with your hands at a job in which you take pride, you’ll understand.  While there is something to be said for the remuneration in cold, hard cash (or direct deposit, if you prefer), the real benefit to having a skill such as his is in the joy of achievement, the pride in craftsmanship.

photo by hradcanska

The bicycle man asked me if I had ever worked on a project, knowing that I was doing everything exactly right, only to have the result not fit my expectations.  “I sometimes wonder if I’m even supposed to be doing this at all!” he exclaimed, exasperated over an uncooperative bike he had worked on this weekend.  I could empathize, having just dealt with a similar situation recently.  The customer brought in a very expensive electric guitar which was hard to play.  The vintage Les Paul was a thing of beauty.  I have said many times that I love working on the nice instruments, because they seem to “want” to be repaired, slipping easily into adjustment, almost with a sigh of relief.  The opposite effect is often seen with cheap instruments; those poorly built examples of inferior design and construction preferring instead, to fight you every step of the way.  The guitar lying on my repair cradle on this day was in the former group, almost always a joy to work with.  But, it was not to be with this stubborn beast.

No matter which way I determined to go, there was nothing to be done to make the necessary adjustments.  The treble side of the neck had a back bow, which caused the strings to rattle on frets if they were lowered to a comfortable playing position; the bass side, actually had a bow (we call it “relief”) in the opposite direction, causing the strings to be much higher than normal.  I was baffled, since the normal adjustment of a truss rod in the neck which would fix one problem was sure to make the other worse.  Whichever way I turned it, either the back bow would be worse, or the relief would be more pronounced.  It was a no-win situation.

I can count, on one hand, the number of times I have had to call a customer and tell him or her that I could not repair an instrument which I have agreed to tackle for them.  This was one I would have to add to that count He arrived to pick up his guitar last week and we talked about the problem and any potential for abatement.  As we talked, I learned what had happened to the poor instrument.  It was not the fault of the guitar that it had such a problem; it had simply fallen prey to a modern practice for which it was never designed.  Many modern guitarists are experimenting with what is known as “alternate tunings”, dropping the pitch of the lower strings to achieve new tone qualities and chord structures.  The common practice is to use bigger strings for such changes, but this guitar’s owner had decided to mix sets of extra light treble strings and extra heavy bass strings to achieve the tone he was seeking.  The result of the skewed scale was the uneven twist we were seeing.  I felt like a chiropractor for a moment as I told him, “It took some time to get into this situation, so it will take a while to repair it.”  He took the guitar home to work for awhile with the opposite string arrangement, heavy on the treble, light on the bass, and see how it works.  I am hopeful that the problem will take care of itself over time.

I know that your eyes are glazed over right about now with the technical explanation, but I wanted you to understand that sometimes, the issue is not a matter of a simple adjustment.  Frequently, the solution to the problem is to make amends, so to speak.  Basic physics tells us, “For every action, there is an equal, and opposite, reaction.”  If we do things which were never intended to be done, there will be a price to be paid.  My Mama was fond of quoting the verse that says, “Be sure your sins will find you out,” usually right after one of my brothers, or even my sister had tattled on me.  She wasn’t wrong in the application to human beings, just as I am confident that guitars and bicycles are much the same.  We cannot abuse anything over time without it showing in very real ways.

For us, the habits of a lifetime shape who we are.  I have reached the age at which I am reexamining some of those habits.  I don’t always like what I see.  Oh, some habits are good, leading to growth and maturity.  The ones I don’t like so much are the destructive ones, perhaps even the sinful ones.  Those have left their mark, and not only on me.  People around me have been influenced, lives have been altered.  Like the Les Paul guitar, the remedy won’t come overnight, and sadly, perhaps not at all.  I will endeavor to make the changes in my lifestyle, but the effects will likely still be felt for years to come.

It would seem that, once more, we have moved from speaking only of inanimate objects, to application regarding the human condition.  It is often thus, that a thought concerning the mundane will turn into a revelation of the significant. The question is, what will we do with the revelation?  The apostle James speaks of a person who looks in a mirror and goes away, forgetting what his image looked like.  What a waste!

Are you feeling the effects of the years of improper usage?  There is time yet to make amends, time to develop new habits.  I’ve said it before (and will again, no doubt)…Where there’s life, there’s hope!

I’m going to try hard to remember what I’ve seen in the mirror.  How about you?

” For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.   For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”
(James 1:23,24~ESV)

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
(Aristotle~Ancient Greek Philosopher~384 BC-322 BC)

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

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