Indebted

“Well?  What are you waiting for–an engraved invitation?”

Photo: Abhisek Sarda

The quiet young man glanced up at me, almost in embarrassment.  I was teasing, but he couldn’t be expected to know that.  Standing in front of the counter at my music store, the teenager looked almost frightened, but he asked the question anyway.

“Do you mind–would it be all right if I played it?”

He motioned toward the thousand dollar guitar hanging on the wall behind me, seemingly worried that I might refuse.  I had already told him he could take down anything he wanted to play, but this was different.  He wasn’t sure my blanket license extended to the instruments behind the counter.

I laughed.  “Of course you can play it.  I told you anything you wanted to play, didn’t I?”

Most of my customers know me well enough to see through my smart-aleck words, but this young man was new here.  He had only been in before with his dad, but on this day was on his own.  He wanted to be sure he played by the rules.

He waited for me to hand him the guitar, but I was busy with another customer and, jerking my chin in the direction of the hangers on the wall behind me, told him to get it himself.  He walked gingerly behind the counter and reached up to lift the beautiful instrument from its place in the row of better-than-average instruments back there.

Carrying the guitar as if it would fall apart in his hands, he rounded the corner to plug it into an amplifier.  I listened to the sweet chords and melodies that came from his ministrations to the pretty chunk of wood with strings attached and smiled.

This is what I live for.  Well, this and the odd bowl of ice cream once in awhile.

The young man, oblivious to the activity going on around him–a little girl swishing past, headed into her piano lesson, the postal person, toting an armful of plastic tubs to replace the ones full of packages she would haul out momentarily–sat and lovingly played that guitar for half an hour.  I still don’t understand what it is about music that carries one away like that, but, having felt the same thing myself countless times, I could only muse enviously as I went about my tasks.

He would have played longer, but his dad, a rough farmer who jumped out of an old pickup truck towing a stock trailer, stuck his head in the front door and beckoned impatiently to him.  Jerked back to reality, the boy reached down and, flicking off the switch on the amplifier, unplugged the precious instrument.  He then carried it, just as carefully as before, back to the counter.

The kid just stood there, waiting for my unspoken permission, finally given in the form of a head jerk, to go behind the counter again and replace the pricey guitar back in its accustomed spot on the wall.  Then he headed for the exit.  I told him to come back any time and he just ducked his head shyly.

A few moments later, I looked up from the job I was doing and saw him there again.  He was standing in the same spot he had occupied when I had made my smart-mouthed comment to him earlier.  As before, he waited for me to speak first.

“Well?”  I asked roughly.

“I just wanted to say thank you for letting me play your guitar, sir.”

He turned on his heel and was gone.

Did I say I lived for the moments when the guitar is played by talented hands?  I’ve changed my mind.

I live for moments like this.

We don’t talk about gratitude much, do we?  I sit now and wonder–why is that?

The answer comes back to me instantly.  Gratitude puts us in debt.  No.  It acknowledges we are in debt.  We don’t like that.  We like to think we are self sufficient.

We want to be in control in every circumstance.

Gratitude proves we are not.
____________________

I can’t consider this event without another story leaping to mind.  I’m sorry.  I spent my formative years in Sunday School.  How could I not think about it?

The Teacher was walking with His followers toward the big city, when He noticed a group of men who stood a long distance away, asking for Him to have pity on them.  It almost appears that He didn’t do anything for them Himself, as He jerked His head toward the temple and the men running it.  He told them to go and show themselves to the religious leaders.  Nothing more.  Go and ask the priest to look at them.

Every one of them went, ten in all.  As they went, their horrible skin condition was healed.

Nine of them, we never learn anything more about.  Nothing.

I wonder–were they grateful at all?  Do you suppose they gave credit to the Teacher for their recovery?  Did they brag that they had done it themselves by starting toward the place where the priest was?

I don’t know.  I do know they never said a simple thank you.  Never–at least, not directly to the One who was responsible for what happened.

Not a single thank you.  Well, there was one.  The odd man in the bunch, the shy one, the quiet one, the foreigner.  One thank you from the whole bunch.

He came back immediately and fell at the feet of Jesus, praising God.

Just one question further.  Which of those men owed a debt to the Teacher?  You know the answer.  It was more than one.

Yet, only one acknowledged his debt.
____________________

Day after day, people come through my door.  Any number of them push their way behind my counter to pull guitars off the wall.

It’s okay.  I tell them to do that.  They just never ask anymore.  One man  frequently squeezes behind me while I’m ringing up sales at the register.  When they get done, they hang the guitars back on the wall.

Almost never will any of them say thank you.  I’m okay with that.  I don’t insist on it, nor will I ever hold it against them.

But, it’s hard to keep from making the comparison, is it not?

Gratitude is a remarkable thing.  It enriches the thankful, as well as the benefactor.  I’m convinced of it.

Oh.  The boy was back two days later.  He came and stood at the counter again.  He said three words as he laid his hundred dollar bills down on the plate glass surface.

“I want it.”

I said two words to him as he walked out the store, carrying his beautiful guitar.

“Thank you.”

As the red-haired lady who raised me always said, turnabout is fair play.

It’s a debt I’ll gladly acknowledge.

Others will come to mind, I’m sure.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
(from Winnie-the-Pooh ~ by A. A. Milne ~ English author ~ 1882-1956)

“Give thanks to the Lord, because He is good.
His faithful love continues forever.”
(Psalm 136:1 ~ NIRV)

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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