Easy Way Out

Sometimes, I wish the instruments would stop talking to me. 

Now–now–give me a minute!  Let me explain before word gets around I’ve finally misplaced that final marble.

I don’t mean the instruments really talk to me.  I don’t even mean I hear voices coming from the pieces of wood and metal.  What I mean is sometimes the inherent message of the musical instruments is so clear I just can’t keep it to myself.

I preach their message to my customers.  That’s right.  Preach.

“All of life is a compromise.  Actually, one compromise after another.  Why, just look at the height of those strings on your guitar.  You can’t lower them too far or they buzz on the frets, but if you raise them too high, they’re impossible to press to the neck and they play out of tune. It’s all about the ability to give and take.”

The parishioners don’t always heed their preacher. Imagine!

I had sold the guitar only the day before.  One day, he had it.  On the second day, he brought it back.

“It buzzes all over and I can’t get any clear tones up the neck at all.”  I watched his face as he plaintively said the words, and I knew immediately he wasn’t telling me everything.

He played the guitar for me a bit and, sure enough, it buzzed and fretted out up the neck as he flailed away at the strings.  I took the guitar from him and put it on my work bench.

“These aren’t the strings that were on when I sold it to you.  Pretty light, aren’t they?”

Hanging his head a little he replied, “Yeah.  I’ve been playing so much I’ve almost got blisters.  I had to have lighter strings.”  He went on, almost combatively, as if daring me to argue with him, “And, I lowered the action as well.  It was too high.”

I sighed.  This was going to take awhile. Taking a deep breath to make myself remain calm, I spent the next few minutes explaining to the man what his guitar was trying to tell him.  I understood it.  He just couldn’t hear it himself.

“Guitar playing is a compromise.  Too light strings mean they’ll buzz and rattle unless you change the way you strike them.  If you must use light strings, you have to play with a lighter touch.  And, you absolutely cannot lower them that close to the frets.  You lose tone quality and the lighter tension guarantees they’ll vibrate against the neck. “

He nodded his head.  “But, I can’t play on heavier strings. It’s too painful.”

I wasn’t going to argue.  “That’s fine.  Let’s raise the strings a bit and, if you’ll lighten up with the pick, you should be able to work it out.”

“No.”  He was adamant.  “If it won’t play the way I want it to, I don’t want the guitar.”

Immovable.  Unyielding. 

I gave him his money back.

Guitar_PlayerofSeville1908The guitar has been restrung and set up correctly again.  It’s a very nice instrument which functions exactly as it was designed.  I’ll sell it someday to someone who will love it and make beautiful music with it.

What the instrument says to me is this: There is beautiful music inside of me, but for it to be heard, some difficulty must–absolutely must–be overcome.

  Not avoided.  Overcome.

I’ve been asking some questions this past week.  Well–all of my life, actually.  I’ve just been thinking more seriously about them this week.

Why does life have to be hard?  Why can’t life be all spring breaks and white sandy beaches?  What if nothing was ever more difficult than a sunny Saturday morning with no lawn to mow and no laundry to do?

I’m wondering because life seems hard right now (not for the first time).  Like my guitar playing friend, I’d like to get something easier on my fingers–well to be more specific, something easier on my heart.

You see, my cousin died suddenly this week.  Pamela was a sweet, kind person who loved the people in her life.  She loved God, too.  She is gone far too soon, at least to my thinking.  I don’t like the empty place her absence leaves in my world.

An auto accident happened to a loved one the other day, in which a car was destroyed, and a few hours were spent at the local emergency room.  There is no lasting injury and cars can be replaced. This, I know.  That doesn’t change the fact that I was standing at that intersection with bits and pieces of the once beautiful car strewn about my feet, wishing things had happened differently, and I found myself wondering why life was so scary sometimes.

I haven’t spoken much of it here, but the last two months have brought waves of illness to me.  Infections weakened me, both physically and emotionally.  I finally had a couple of sickness-free weeks when I was recuperating and gaining strength.  Then, early this week, both the Lovely Lady and I were stricken violently with a stomach virus.  It passed quickly, but in my innermost places, I am certain the white flag of surrender is beginning to unfurl. 

Shall I wave it for the world to see?  Is it time to surrender?

No. I’m thinking perhaps, not just yet

I may just heed the sermon from the guitar instead.  From sore fingers come clear chords.  From tired hands come pure melodies and counter-melodies that weave together in harmonies that come straight from heaven.


Life is hard.  Hard.  Difficulties lie in our pathway.  We’ll never be successful if we work to avoid the difficulties. 

The easy path leads to nowhere particular.  We’re not going there.

We have a goal in life.  We’re in this to win the prize.  It’s a high calling.

I’m pretty sure beautiful music comes only through hard work and overcoming obstacles.  I’ve felt the pain myself.  I’ve watched the Lovely Lady sit down after practicing the piano for hours, shaking her hands and telling me that they are numb. 

Numb.  Does that sound easy?  Painless?

Have I preached long enough? 

Missing those who have been taken from us only makes us long for heaven a little bit more.  The scary moments and the difficult seasons only give us more reason to persevere.

I hope you’re listening for the beautiful music.

I’m practicing right now.




“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.  In practice there is.”
(Yogi Berra ~ American baseball coach)


“…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness…”
(Isaiah 61:3 ~ KJV)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

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