“I just want to look at your guitars for a few minutes.”
The old fellow wandered through the doorway of my music store the other day. I looked up from my stooped over position at the work bench and nodded a greeting to him. The owner of the guitar on my bench was standing beside me watching my progress, so I continued with the repair.
The old guy—okay, he’s actually my age—moved out of sight into the guitar section of the building, the L-shaped design of the room acting as a natural divider. I could hear him gently plucking strings on the instruments hanging from the wall.
It didn’t take long. The fellow stopped at one instrument. I didn’t see him do it. I could just hear that the sound of the strings being strummed had gone from varying tonality to a uniform sound. He ran his fingers over the strings one last time while the guitar hung on the wall, and then he lifted the chosen instrument down from the midst of the other candidates.
He had made his selection. This was the instrument upon which he would perform that day. Right there; right then.
The concert began. From our position around the corner, the audience listened with delight. The owner of the patient on my bench was happy with the diversion. A guitar set-up is not the most hypnotizing activity known to man. I wasn’t unhappy with the distraction either. The old guy really is a good guitarist.
He played for five minutes.
The music was beautiful. Every one of the six strings on the guitar was employed as he played the melody intertwined with chords and arpeggios, first moving up from the lowest, bass-y tones to the clear, bell-like trebles and then back down again. He performed an old pop song from the Seventies, followed by a contemporary Christian piece, almost without any pause in between.
The man played for another ten minutes.
The guitar sounded great! I was fairly certain the old guy wasn’t buying, but it didn’t matter. His playing might sell the guitar to somebody else. Besides, I just like listening to good artistry. Musical instruments are designed to make music. They’re no good to anyone hanging on a rack.
Then it happened. I heard it the second it occurred. One chord was struck in such a manner that there was the tiniest buzz.
The tiniest buzz.
I sighed. “Well, that’s it.”
I muttered the words so that the man standing beside me heard them.
“What do you mean?” he questioned.
“He’s done. Just wait,” I replied. “You’ll see.”
Art imitates life.
The idea can be traced back to Ancient Greece and further. It is a truism, a self-evident truth which almost could be described as a duh statement. You know what I mean. Someone says the words and you can’t help but reply with a duh to show how silly it was to state the obvious.
The idea that art imitates life simply means that in our artistic endeavors, we tend to repeat what we see played out in everyday life. Paintings are more realistic than not; songs describe emotions that are genuinely felt; stage productions and films depict events which are either believable, or at least could be imagined from our understanding of what life is. There are, of course, exceptions. I won’t argue about philosophy; it’s a conversation which would never reach a conclusion.
I’ll say it again though.
Art imitates life.
My friend and I were about to receive a lesson in it.
We didn’t have long to wait.
The music stopped abruptly. The guitarist’s hand returned to the errant chord.
Throm, throm, throm.
The chord wasn’t unpleasant, but there was that slight metallic sound, as one string momentarily touched the fret above where it was fingered. As the string vibrated, it oscillated repeatedly against the offending metal bar. Within the chord, it was not clearly obnoxious, but I was sure of what would follow.
With a final throm of all the strings, the guitarist’s finger moved unerringly to the guilty string, holding it down in the same position. Now the sound changed again.
Plink, plink, plink, plink.
The same action was repeated more times than I could count. It was so annoying that even I ceased my work on the guitar and stood in vexation. I willed the guitarist to stop, but he didn’t.
Just about the time I was ready to speak up and ask him to stop, it seemed that he had come to his senses. The music began anew. Beautiful chords, utilizing the entire fingerboard and all six strings, rang out. The melody was heard once again. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Throm! throm! throm! Plink! plink! plink! plink! He had returned to the bad fret again.
Several times more, the melody was taken up. Every single time, the result was the same. A few seconds of music and moments of frustration. Finally the old guitarist gave up. We heard the sounds of him rising from the stool, sighing as he did, and hanging the instrument in its place with the others on the rack.
He walked around the corner, muttering as he came.
“You know that guitar has a high fret, don’t you? It’s completely unplayable.”
I chuckled to myself, but verbally, I agreed with him and assured him that I would deal with the problem soon. His face lit up again and, bidding us a good afternoon, he turned and headed out the door.
“That’s too bad,” the guitar owner consoled me. “You can’t sell a guitar that’s unplayable.”
I looked at him with amusement.
“Unplayable? What do you think he was doing with the guitar for the first fifteen minutes he sat up there?”
We discussed the principle of little things and important things while I finished up his repair and then he too was on his way.
Art imitates life.
Sometimes, the artist intends to imitate life. He draws, or writes, or acts out life events so they can’t be missed.
Frequently though, art imitates life in a way that is completely unintentional by the artist.
My old guitarist friend had no objective of teaching a life lesson on that afternoon. He was genuinely entranced by the sound and feel of the guitar he had selected. It was a season of beautiful interaction between the artist and his medium, the guitar. His audience was the beneficiary of the artistry.
Then he found it—one tiny, insignificant defect. And, with that, he was done with the beautiful instrument with which he had interacted and with which he had fallen in love. A single vibration ended the love affair for him.
The legalistic part of me wants to side with the old guitarist. I want to point out that one sin makes a sinner; one speck of contamination ruins the whole meal; one act of unfaithfulness destroys all trust in a relationship.
We reject the defects every day. We walk away from churches because of one thing we don’t like. We ditch relationships because we have suddenly become aware of a secret we never knew before. We reject people because they don’t live up to the advertisement.
The legalistic part of me nods agreement.
This guitar is unplayable.
The part of me that believes in grace screams out that there is more to it than this.
Our Creator has always used broken media in His artistry to show us what life really is to be. Even if you don’t want to go all the way back to the Book for examples (and there are hundreds there), all you have to do is to look around you. Look at the most famous if you want. You can think of more than a few.
Look at the most common, too. I’d even have to stand up if the question were to be asked.
Imperfect product of His love and grace? That’s me.
I suspect it is any of us who have experienced that grace.
Still, beautiful music is being made every day. Played on unplayable instruments. Instruments which are still fallible, still defective.
How about it? Got a little plinking going on in life right now?
Yeah. Me too.
I remember the beautiful music I once heard. Maybe it’s time to move on to the important things again.
God’s still working on me, too.
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
(I Peter 4:8 ~ NLT)
“God sees us with the eyes of a father. He sees our defects, errors, and blemishes. But He also sees our value.”
(Max Lucado ~ American pastor/author)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.