The curious young man–we’ll call him Andy–is snooping through the back room at the music store. I’ve talked about the back room before, you know. It’s basically a combination of a hoarder’s stash and Aladdin’s Cave, except that you can’t get in by shouting “Open Sesame!” I reluctantly allow a few of my customers to wander through the stacks of old merchandise, once in awhile. It can be a little embarrassing sometimes.
Andy is having a great time–exclaiming admiringly as he picks up an old microphone from the seventies, and then wondering aloud about the purpose for a wood-bending iron, a strange-looking tool which heats up to aid in shaping the sides of a guitar under construction. I am amused as he digs into boxes and pushes aside empty cases to get at the treasure/trash behind them. Then he finds it. The box of old strings. No, not string such as is used to tie up things or put around fingers as a memory aid, but strings which go on guitars and violins and banjos to give them a voice. This box is a hodge-podge of different brands and sizes and types, mostly part-sets which started out as brand new merchandise hanging on the slat-wall, or peg-board (in the years before slat-wall). I would need a single string which was not in stock and, not having time to wait, would impatiently take one string out of a set of four or six or twelve, intending to replace the single string later, but I never got around to it. The box is crammed full of such amputated groupings of strings now, still visited occasionally in hopes that a string I am seeking may be found. It usually isn’t.
But, as Andy digs, he exclaims again. “Hey! This is neat! How old is that?” The young man holds up an orange and black box, at which I grin. “I don’t really know,” I reply sheepishly. You see, that box of strings, along with a few others in the larger box he is pawing through, has been around longer than I have worked here. This month marks thirty-five years since I went to work for the Lovely Lady’s father, and these strings were in the music store before that historic landmark in my life, so many years ago. I tell him this and he is amazed, as well as confused. “Do you ever sell any of them at all?” he asks. I shake my head. No. He is more confused. “Well, why do you keep them?” I shake my head again, this time in confusion myself. I don’t know. They are just here. I have sorted the box of strings any number of times, and searched through it for a necessary replacement many more times than that. I’ve never once considered discarding the package of strings, at one time a full set of six guitar strings, now, with only three of them left–an obsolete relic from the past which will never again be of any use to any guitarist on the face of the earth.
Don’t laugh. You’ve got them in your own space too. Oh, not guitar strings, but I know that there are remnants of your past in your closet, or back room, or attic. Canvas tennis shoes, from your youth, now gone beyond recall (the youth, that is). They’ll never be worn again, but you can’t discard them. I know a guy who keeps the steering wheel from his first car up on a shelf in his garage. It won’t ever guide a car down the road again, but nothing could entice him to dispose of it. I could name almost any common item and someone reading this will wonder for just a second, “How does he know what I have in my closet?” Can you tell me why it is that we hold on to our past and can’t let go of the mementos, no matter how silly?
I have to admit that, as I took a photo of the old string package this evening, I was carried back, all those thirty-five years, in my thoughts. I have a smile on my lips as I write this, the memory of my late father-in-law, as he taught me the rudiments of guitar repair and adjustment, bringing fond remembrances of my early days of working for him. Not all that comes from saving old things is bad.
But, then again, I don’t want you to miss the point that sometimes, collecting old memories can get in our way, too. It was only two days after Andy’s visit last week that I was again made aware of how stupid it is to keep junk hanging around. The Lovely Lady, in assisting a customer, needed an item off of the shelf in the back room. As she tugged the guitar strap out, first I heard her exclaim in disgust and then came the great crash of an object toppling off the shelf onto the floor. It took a long time to pick up the strings and put them back into a semblance of order in the box. Tonight, in my head, I’m weighing the benefits of keeping them against the disadvantages of discarding the entire box. There is a strong possibility that the strings will not be around to see the next thirty-five years.
There is something of a more serious nature for us to learn from this amusing anecdote, though. I’m wondering what else we harbor, perhaps not physically, but emotionally and spiritually, which has the potential to get in our way, to slow us down. I’ve shared many memories with you here, but there are just as many which are too painful, too ugly, to share. They still come to mind, again and again. Those memories have the potential to (and sometimes do) slow me down and cripple me. The guilt and the shame are very real to me, sometimes many years after the actual event. Sure, I know that forgiveness is mine as God’s grace has been extended, but in my thoughts, the individual actions weigh heavily and keep me from the joy that should be mine. Maybe that’s true for you too.
Here is the conclusion of the matter (as the Preacher would say): Just like the ancient and obsolete trash I have held on to year after year, the clear solution to our shameful memories is simply to open our hands and let them go. They are just as obsolete and useless as the physical junk sitting on the shelf in my back room and, truth be known, more harmful to us and those around us. I wonder if that’s what the Apostle was thinking about when he suggested that we throw off the weight which hinders us and then run the race which is set before us.
I think it’s about time that we get into training again.
But, I’m also wondering if the Lovely Lady might let me keep a few of those old strings around…just in case. No, I guess not. And, it’s probably just as well anyway…
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
“The ideal is in thyself. The impediment too is in thyself.”
(Thomas Carlyle~Scottish historian/essayist~1795-1881)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.