The lethargic young man is on his way to becoming a musician. He has already taken several years of piano lessons. He is even fairly good at it. Perhaps, I should say was good at it. When he started the lessons, he flew through the method books, desperate to get to the next volume and play the music he has heard the older students performing. Then something happened, something so subtle that no one noticed it. What happened was–nothing. That’s right; nothing happened. He has no reason to keep reaching, no motivation to practice, no challenge to reach for. All he has to look forward to in the realm of being a pianist was playing the same classical pieces on his own or the hymns for his father’s weekly services at the nursing homes. He really doesn’t want to do either. So he has quit trying, wallowing in the morass of Bach’s Two and Three-Part Inventions. But change is in the wind.
|photo: Unhindered by Talent|
A couple of years ago, he started playing in the band. First, on a banged up old cornet, so old that the lacquer was completely gone. The brown thing was an embarrassment, both to him and the band director, so a change was made. He is now a French Horn player, using an instrument provided by the school. Excitement is back again! He wants to play and so he practices. Then, again, Newton’s first law of motion comes into play, and the brakes of boredom are applied to the velocity of first zeal. The vehicle of music making slows to a crawl. But once more, change is in the wind.
A young energetic band director encourages the young man, teaching private lessons, pushing and encouraging. It helps, but then the energy flags as before. The director understands and has another card up his sleeve. The band is strongly encouraged to attend a concert with the local high school band and a very fine, nationally known trumpet soloist. The young teen sits up and notices this! The band is skilled beyond his belief and the soloist is spectacular! He realizes that these kids playing on the stage are barely more than five years his senior. He could be doing that in a few years! Someday, he could even be as good as the soloist who is called back for more than one encore! The fire is raging afresh.
Sometimes, we just need to see the possibilities (and possibly touch them and feel them) to be re-energized and re-animated ourselves. Just a glimpse of the future can blow a gentle breeze on the coals which have died down and with a little additional fuel, the flame burns bright again. Again and again in the young man’s formative years, these experiences had that effect. They still have that effect on the aging man he has now become. But, there is a dark side to this picture.
Almost a century ago, as the first World War wound to a close, a witty person penned some words to a song which would become quite popular in this country. He asked the musical question regarding the boys coming home from the war in Europe…coming home to their farms, their small towns, and their old lives. “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)” Understanding that seeing bigger and better attractions than they’ve ever seen before will leave their ardor for farming, and soda fountains, and high school sweethearts flagging, the poet suggests that nothing will ever be the same for them (and their families and friends) again. The bright lights have not only been seen in the distance, but they’ve been experienced up close; the boys have bathed in their glow. After that, he fears that everything about home will have lost its appeal.
Moving to the present, we acquired a new television the other day. Well, it is new to us, but that’s almost beside the point. I had suggested to the Lovely Lady that, with the initiation of High Definition Television, our old set had become hard to see. I could no longer view scores in athletic contests and the edges of the picture were cut off by the new wider view, which our old square screen could not accommodate. We’ll not blame my old eyes–the equipment was simply outdated. We jumped at a chance to trade an item with a relative for his three year old flat-screen model and installed it in our house last week. Attaching the cable, along with a new cable box, and flipping a few channels, the realization hit me. There are a lot of channels which I don’t receive, because I haven’t purchased the “premium” package from the cable company. As I flip past these channels, the new digital TV tells me what they are. All kinds of sports programming, creative channels which the Lovely Lady would love, even movie channels which offer the latest fare from Hollywood…all of these and many more show up as I click past. I want those channels for myself.
What happened? A week ago, I didn’t want those channels; could have cared less about them. Today, I can’t live without them. You see, in the intervening time, I caught a glimpse of what could be. Before, I only knew what was. And, it was enough. Now, I want more. Every time I see those non-channels go past as I hold down the remote’s buttons, I want them to be places to stop on my television. I know they are within reach. All I have to do is to pick up the telephone and say the word. The blank spaces will be filled if I do that. Of course, there will be a corresponding blank space in my wallet every month as well, but I will acquire what I desire.
Do you see what I mean by the dark side? The same thing which motivated me to be a better musician, to reach further and go higher, also drives my desire to acquire more unnecessary junk; to waste money on unprofitable time-wasting programming. Seeing the possibilities, having eyes opened to what can be, not only lifts us up to be better people, but it can drive us to our knees in coveting and lusting after what we cannot, or should not, have. Talk about a double edged sword!
I’m trying not to preach, but if you will allow me a little more freedom, I will suggest that the examples I’ve used above are in no way comprehensive, nor do they really even scratch the surface of the dark side to this issue. We all know of families which are being torn apart by greed, or pornography, or illicit affairs. These have almost all grown from the seed of discontent, planted as individuals have seen, and been seduced by, attractive images of something claiming to be bigger and better than what they have. The images lie, but nonetheless they work on the minds and hearts of men and women; calling them to action, with disastrous results. Again and again, people act on those lies, only to see new images of bigger and better things, still calling them deeper and deeper into the trap which their life has become.
The Preacher, Solomon, said it clearly. “There is a way that seems right to men, but it ends up badly.” Well, he really said that it ends up in death and destruction. And before that, he said, “Don’t lean on your own knowledge, but trust God with your heart.”
It’s good advice. Choices will be made. The path will be selected. Are you going up? Or, are you headed down? It’s not too late to turn around, if you can still read this. Where there’s life, there’s hope.
Keep your eyes open for the possibilities today. When you make your choices though, make sure you’re headed further up and further in.
The other direction is simply down and out.
“This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
(from “The Last Battle”~C.S. Lewis~Irish novelist/theologian~1898-1963)
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.