Eaten Up

“Paul, this is a wonderful guitar…” It was only the beginning of a longer conversation with this excellent guitar player, I could tell. No doubt, there would be a “but” coming very soon. I didn’t have to wait long. “…But, they haven’t done a good job in grinding the frets along the edges of the fingerboard. They just tear my fingers to pieces!” It is a complaint with which I’ve become quite familiar in recent years. With machines doing the tasks which used to be done by manual labor, some of the rough edges remain, even on the most pricey of guitars. The ends of the metal pieces to which the strings are pressed down on the fingerboard can be pretty vicious, unless they are smoothed down with a file.
“Well, Jim…” I started with a grin and he knew he was going to be the recipient of some silly play on words, a trademark of many of my conversations. “…You see, that’s how it works. If you insist on fretting, it will simply eat you up.” I was definitely more amused by my wittiness than he, but he managed at least one polite laugh before launching into his complaint once more. We spent some time in serious contemplation of the problem, determining the solution before he left, but tonight, I’m left to wonder about the truth of my witticism.
I spent a few moments in research about the etymology of the word “fret” this evening. How did such diverse meanings come to apply to the same word? On the one hand, we have a simple arrangement of metal bars which determine the pitch of many stringed instruments when the string is pressed down upon them; on the other, a word which we take to mean worrying. As I searched, I could find no connection whatsoever between the two usages. When used in the latter sense, to worry, the word derives from an old English word, which actually means “to devour”. The metal pieces on a guitar probably got their name from what we also call fretwork, interlaced pieces of material which can form geometric patterns. At any rate, the origin of this usage is an old French word meaning “fetter” or “bound”. Both are pretty telling.
I have been fretting a lot recently. No, I don’t mean that I have done anything in relation to the guitar fingerboard. I mean that I’ve been eaten up, or devoured, with concerns. There have been many opportunities. The national election just passed has caused more than a normal amount of stress. The Lovely Lady’s mother has been doing poorly. We’ve had an unusually high number of folks through our doors in recent days who are in financial distress and hoping for help. There is never quite enough money in our own bank account to be assured that there is no crisis coming. The list goes on and on. It doesn’t help that I am having another medical assessment next week. I am keeping a list mentally…and fretting. I don’t intend to do so. It comes naturally.
Before we go too far down that road, you know, the discussion of the sin of worry and what we should do to have victory over the mindset, will you let me chase a rabbit for a minute? Who knows? We may never get back to this part of the discussion (or never have to).
I’m thinking that the guitar might be a better point of discussion anyway. Okay, all you non-guitar-nerds, bear with me for a little while. What I’m realizing is that the guitar is a great analogy for this discussion anyway. Here’s what I mean. When a person first begins to learn the instrument, there is a good bit of discomfort involved. The way you play a guitar is to push the strings down to the fingerboard at the correct fret, commonly called “fretting” the guitar. If done correctly, the motion produces a clear note from the string. Many students complain vociferously about the pain caused by this action. Some even quit because of it. I sell a largely unnecessary product called “Finger-ease” for just this complaint. Spray a little of it on the strings and it all feels better–for a little while. The problem is that, sooner or later, you have to work through the discomfort and toughen up the fingertips anyway. I think that perhaps a better method is simply to keep your eye on the goal. If all you do while practicing is to concentrate on the fretting, the pressure, of the strings, you will almost certainly be discouraged and drop out. Then again, if you realize that the pressing down, the temporary discomfort, is just that–temporary–and that the goal you are working for is the beautiful music which will come from the effort and the suffering, you won’t be discouraged and eaten up with concern.
I was also reminded just today that our problems, the ones which we think are insurmountable and therefore, worthy of fretting, are almost always relatively unimportant. The wake-up call came in the form of, well…a phone call. I answered the toll-free line this morning to hear the cheerful voice of one of our long-time customers, asking how I was doing. “Oh, just so-so,” I began, ready to unload on him, given half a chance. The chance never came. “I’m just happy to be able to call you today.” He replied. “I’ve spent the last ten weeks in the ICCU ward of the hospital and I’m so glad to be home!” Open heart surgery which hadn’t been as trouble-free as hoped was his problem. Mine? I have a sore throat. Then he stopped. “You said, ‘…just so-so.’ What’s going on?” My shame was palpable. “Nothing at all. I’m doing great! How can I help you today?” We completed our business and then I sat and counted my blessings for awhile.
So. Are your problems nothing? Do they not deserve consideration? That is not my message at all. I will simply say it this way. Our problems are just as much a part of the great masterpiece, which is being painted by the Master Painter, as are the tremendous blessings which we enjoy. But, if we concentrate on the pain and stress, we fret and lose sight of the bigger picture. A focus on the negative which comes on occasion causes blindness to the great good which is happening all of the days of our lives. (“Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me…”)
I think that I can do this. There is beautiful music to be made. I’m not fretting, I’m playing the melodies and harmonies which have been written on the pages of my life, long before I began to learn the tune. You’ve got a part to be played also. Maybe someday we can make music together.
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in His ears.
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
(Romans 8:18~KJV)
“I was sad that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
(Old Persian proverb)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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