When they were finished, the Maugrabin paid him their price, even that which he sought, and taking the lamps, carried them to the khan, where he laid them in a basket and fell to going round about in the markets and thoroughfares of the city and crying out, “Ho! who will barter an old lamp for a new lamp?” When the folk heard him crying this, they laughed at him and said, “Certes, this man is mad, since he goeth about, bartering new lamps for old.”
We’ve all heard the story in one form or another. It is one of the classic middle-eastern tales which are related in dramatic fashion in “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” The story is a favorite because it recounts the rags to riches adventures of a young man named Aladdin, who finds a magic lamp, wins the beautiful princess, and lives happily ever after. As a young boy, I loved the story and wished desperately that there really was a magic lamp and a genie who could grant wishes. Who hasn’t wished that? I’m fairly confident that such a lamp does not exist and also pretty sure that we wouldn’t really want it to. Well, it would be okay if I were the one to discover it, but not if anyone else did. I certainly don’t want to live in someone else’s fantasy world.
But, what I’m really thinking of tonight is damaged goods. You know, I bought a guitar from a young man the other day. He had taken the instrument to a pawnshop in our town, hoping that the proprietor would offer him a reasonable amount for the old battered guitar he had. The man behind the counter took one look at the guitar and sneered. “Did you dig that piece of junk out of a dumpster? I’ll give you five dollars and that’s being generous.” The guitar did look a little the worse for the wear.It has scratches over most of the body, especially near the sound hole. There are pits on the fingerboard and, at one point, a sticker was applied to the top. Now removed, you can still see the round spot where the finish around the sticker faded with light exposure, but that spot remains dark. Forty years of dirt and oils have discolored the finish and it will never be described as good-looking. I examined the guitar and determined that it had value to me in spite of its worn condition, so I offered the young man twenty times what the pawn shop owner had. In spite of its outward appearance, I’m positive that I made a good deal because I can see the potential of that old guitar to make beautiful music. Come to think of it, I might actually keep the aged beauty for myself, simply because it’s a wonderful instrument that feels like an old friend already.
“New lamps for old”? What kind of madness is this? In short, the villain in the story of the magic lamp understood that the value of that lump of copper or bronze which Aladdin possessed wasn’t in its beauty. The value was in what was contained inside the lamp and he was willing to pay a great price to possess it himself. He may have traded away many lamps before he got the one he wanted. But, he was willing to pay the price. Of course, we all know that he came to no good in the end. But then, we’re really not talking about that old villain here, are we?
The longer I live, the more I realize that we…and not one of us is excluded…we are damaged goods.Some of us show it more than others.While I see a number of folks who wear their brokenness out in the open, a lot of us are really good at hiding it, too.We disguise it with our successes and achievements, with our braggadocio, and our arrogance. We even conceal it beneath our philanthropy, our benevolence. But deep down under the surface we understand, to our chagrin and lasting embarrassment, that we are broken and not a little ugly. I’m pretty sure that what we really long for, despite our childlike dream of a magic lamp and a genie, is someone to come along actually calling out, “New lamps for old.” We need someone to realize the value of what is contained inside, despite our worn and tattered exterior.
Many of you who read this have heard that call already. Grace is an unbelievable thing, almost, it would seem, a mad thing, like the villain of Aladdin’s day.(What kind of crazy God would make such an offer?) But, moving past the spiritual aspect, I’m wondering how many of us understand how important it is for us to respond to our own undeserved redemption with a down-to-earth, physical concern for other broken people. We don’t get to say, “I got mine, now you get yours.” I’m not talking about giving money to poor people or sending boxes of clothes to faceless children across the sea (not that we shouldn’t do that, too). Right now, I’m speaking of caring for people, our neighbors, where they are…broken by life, by disappointment, by depression, by loss. Who better to care for broken people but broken people? We know where it hurts, and what it takes to make it better.
Some of the finest, most valuable musical instruments I have found have been the most abused, ugliest things you would ever want to see. Neglected and devalued by ignorant people, they sit in dusty corners and hot attics, awaiting the touch of a caring and loving hand. The results have been astonishing, again and again. And, so it is often with our fellow human beings, neglected and devalued by the world about them. All it takes is just a touch…
I’m going to try to look for the value in the worn and tired folks I interact with today. A word of encouragement (and possibly a smile) may be all that is required. It’s a place to start anyway. After that?
Well, we’ll just have to play it by ear…
“Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.”
(“Rescue the Perishing” by Fanny Crosby~American hymn writer~1820-1915)
“…Many a man with his life out of tune, battered and scarred with sin, he’s auctioned cheap to a thankless world…”
(from “The Touch of the Master’s Hand”~anonymous)
Originally published on 11/7/2011
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.