But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.
Thousands? Millions? Hardly that, for all the words I will slather on this page like so much honey onto a slice of bread, but perhaps some will think anyway. A few.
I left her a few moments ago, sitting in her customary place under the lamp, patiently placing stitch after stitch of thread into the canvas on her lap. She looked into my face just before I turned away. What the Lovely Lady saw there, I don’t know, but she interpreted my emotions in that split second.
“Don’t be depressed.” The words came out more as a supplication for a favor than a demand.
She knows me.
My work day was a little tumultuous, emotionally. More than a little.
The day started with a visit from a young man with whom I’ve been acquainted for a number of years. I knew him when he was a middle-schooler, still in his early teens.
I still picture him–No, not just a picture, but a video–in my head, sitting on a stool over in the corner. There is an acoustic guitar in his hand, and he is singing. Clear and pure, the melody flows from his mouth, his vocal chords producing tones I could never dream of making myself. The ordinary guitar in his hands has become an instrument of magic, the chords and arpeggios flowing effortlessly to blend with the sonorous vocals of the song.
I have listened to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals, both young and old, as they sit and play in my store. For almost forty years, they’ve come through. Many are just beginners, the chords they play halting and timid, the strumming patterns almost not patterns at all. Some, more experienced, are quite good, their playing pleasant to hear, the vocals (when they come) adequate. There are even a few who are accomplished musicians, confident in their skill, and comfortable with the few customers who make up their audience.
This young man though–I have never seen a more natural performer, nor listened to more raw talent. Never. He played flawlessly, his fingers flashing over the strings. And, when he sang? Ah, when he sang, he was in a world all his own, oblivious to anyone else in the room. From a beautiful broad baritone range, up to the powerful high tenor voice, and then on into a beautiful clear falsetto, he sang without fear and without imperfection.
I remember thinking, this one–this one is going to go places and do amazing things with his gifts. I had no doubts success would be his.
It was inevitable.
It was not.
I’m not sure where the young man’s experiences have taken him in the ten years since I first heard him, but those years have not been friendly to him. Gone is the genial, confident boy I knew. Gone too, is a large part of his raw talent, sacrificed on the altar of drugs.
I will not dwell on the sadness in my heart; it will come through on its own. As I looked into the chemical-clouded eyes of my young friend, I saw no sign of recognition, no smile of joy as in days past. His voice was flat and emotionless, his responses to my questions slow, sometimes not coming at all. Drug usage is a thief, stealing abilities and ambitions, leaving in their place detachment and resignation.
Don’t be depressed? Why should I not?
How could I not?
I said it was a tumultuous day, didn’t I? Tumultuous describes both highs and lows, a heady mixture of good and bad. Today was such a day.
As the workday drew to a close, another friend came in. A transplant from New Orleans, this middle-aged fellow has made his home in our small town for almost ten years now. A little hurricane named Katrina blew him our way and he decided to stay.
An avid jazz lover, he hasn’t always found fellow musicians to play with, since this part of the country is not exactly a hotbed of jazz music. Still, he slogs along, guitar in hand, making disciples where he can.
This afternoon, he and I were deep in conversation when another young man walked in. The young college graduate picked up a guitar and strummed a chord or two. Well-trained in a number of styles of music, he has developed a love for jazz recently. Talk about a coincidence!
The two men had met before, and they greeted each other as the older jazz lover from New Orleans seated himself on a stool near the younger man. Now both of them were holding guitars.
They had just begun to play together, when still another young friend pushed the door open. This fellow also has extensive training in various styles of music, having a few years of studio recording and touring with a popular Christian group under his belt.
Before I knew it, they were all holding guitars and playing, with some skill, the jazz chord progressions the older man called out to start with. A moment later, you might have thought they had played together for years, the sound was so smooth and clean. It wasn’t flawless, but it was good.
I left them to enjoy each other and the music, and I sat down at my desk.
Disappointment had been my companion from the start of the day. I wanted to hold that tight and wallow in the feeling. My sadness at the waste of such talent was palpable. The ten-year old video in my head was still playing, the once joyful vocals and accompaniment now solemn and tragic.
But, the music from around the corner intruded. Yes. That’s the word. It intruded, driving out the dark, lighting the place with hope. Joy, even.
A voice took up a melody–an old tune from the classic age of jazz. Oh the shark has–pretty teeth dear, and he shows them–pearly white. . .
I have a new video to play in my brain now. Mack the Knife is sitting ready to play and replay again when I need a good memory. Two young men, sitting beside their new friend, a street-singer from New Orleans, are playing along in fine form. His old voice, rough and soft all at once, is belting out the lyrics as he swipes at the strings of the old acoustic guitar.
This moment is one to add to my collection.
A tumultuous day. Just as it started with disappointment, so it ended with joy and satisfaction.
And, what of my disappointment? What of the wasted young man? Is that nothing? Is he nothing?
The answer is clear. I am still sad. And deeply concerned. I will do everything that is in my power to help him. But I cannot stay there.
I will speak of the sad and the unseemly. I will speak of it, but I won’t dwell there.
I will dwell on the beautiful and the good. There is, it seems, still a good bit of those left in this wide world which our Creator has given us to sojourn in. And, we are still just passing through it. Passing through on our way to a place where the beautiful and the good are all which will be seen and experienced.
So, Lord Byron, these words in figurative ink have fallen onto my thoughts, here in the middle of the night.
Let us see if perhaps, just perhaps, a small percentage of your thousands, or millions can be induced to think.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
(Philippians 4:8 ~ NLT)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.