“It’s a beautiful guitar, Paul”

The words sounded a bit wistful, as if the young man was a little sad.  Perhaps, he knew that he would never own an instrument of that caliber.  Then again, maybe he just wanted to play the one hanging on the wall before him for a few minutes.

Not knowing which it was, I grabbed the bull by the horns and suggested that he play it for a while.

His reaction was confusing.  First, he smiled–a great big grin that told me I had hit the nail on the head with my suggestion.  He just wanted to play this vintage guitar.  A moment later, his mind kicked into gear and he immediately backtracked, his demeanor changing radically.

The big grin was replaced by a quizzical look mixed with disappointment.  He knew I was making fun of him.

After all, he was just a kid off the street.  He had wandered in from who knows where.  His clothes and lack of hygiene told me he hadn’t slept in a bed last night.  They also told me that there would be no money forthcoming, should an accident occur and the instrument be damaged.

All he said was, “Why would you let me play your expensive guitar?”

I understood the implication of his question and the emphasis he put on the word me as he asked it.  Here was a young man who was used to having folks be rude to him.  This was a kid who knew what it was like to be kicked out of businesses and public buildings just because it was clear he was there to soak up the heat, or in warmer months, the air conditioning. 

He was a nobody.  And, he knew it.

I said nothing more, but just took the old guitar off the hook on the wall and placed it in his hands.  I didn’t even warn him to be careful with it, although every fiber in me screamed out the words silently.

The guitar is irreplaceable to me.  Most of my customers know the story by now of my father-in-law selling that exact guitar in his first year of business, now almost fifty years ago.  I’ve related the story of its repurchase and subsequent gift of an incredible sum of money from my customers to ensure that it had a permanent home in my music store.

It is an article of much more value than its actual worth in the marketplace.

I watched the young man’s eyes as he gazed at the instrument in his hands.  He looked back up at me and I gestured with my head toward the amplifiers near the front of the store.

“Plug it in,” was all I said.

Still with a quizzical, almost confused look on his face, he carried the cherry-colored beauty as if it were made of the finest crystal around the corner and out of my sight.  I sat back down at my computer and went back to my work. 

The beautiful tones of that fine guitar soon filled the air.  The boy tried a few chords and then settled into a bluesy melody, the bass strings alternating with the melodies and harmonies of the mid-ranges and trebles.  Almost a point and counter-point, the fingers  and thumb plucked at the strings, as the age-mellowed wood of the guitar’s body and the fine, old pickups faithfully rendered its tones through the amplifier. 

I love listening to a quality instrument in the hands of a good musician.

Half an hour later, he clicked the power button off on the amp and, unplugging the cable, carried the guitar back to where I sat.  The grin was back.

“Do you let just anybody play that guitar?” he asked as he handed it to me again.

I nodded my head.  “Most anybody.  It’s just a guitar.”

He shook his head doubtfully.  “I don’t get it.  If I had dropped it…”  His face fell as he considered the possibilities.

I had already considered those same possibilities.  Just then though, I was thinking about another event, many years ago and many miles away.

Becky and her young husband were aspiring to go to the mission field and were taking the first step, that of learning the language of the place they hoped to serve.

They had nearly no possessions and even less money, but Becky wanted to have a small get-together with her friends, other students at the small language school just a few miles north of Mexico in South Texas.

She invited them to come to tea at the little apartment in which she and her husband lived.  The only problem was, she didn’t have a tea pot.  She also didn’t have enough tea cups.

She asked the wife of the director of the language school if there was any way she could borrow some cups.  Oh, and a tea pot, if that wasn’t too much trouble.  The kind woman told her to come to her home and pick them up that afternoon.

Becky expected just a few mismatched cups and a kettle to be waiting when StrawberryTeaSetshe arrived.  Boy, was she in for a surprise!  What the director’s wife handed to her at the door was a very expensive–and very fragile–matched set of cups and saucers, along with a beautiful matching teapot.  They were quite old and obviously of great value.

Becky objected, but the owner of the dishes would not hear of it.

“I don’t have my heart set on it, Becky.  It’s just a tea set.  Use it and enjoy your time with your friends.”

I’ve never forgotten those words that Becky related to me, years ago.

I don’t have my heart set on it.

I thought of those words as I hung the old guitar back on its hook above my desk.  I will not lie to you.  Every time it gets hung back up undamaged, I am relieved.

That doesn’t mean that I would be devastated if it ever is not returned to its perch in that condition.  It’s just a guitar.

The Teacher suggested that there were two parts of the old Law which mattered most. 

Love God

Love your neighbor.

I’m still having more than a little trouble with the second part.  But, I am finding that working on the first part is shoving me along in achieving the other.  It seems that it may always be a work in progress.

I think what the Teacher meant is that people are more important than guitars.  Or tea sets.

That includes scroungy homeless young men.

They’re people.

Time to set our hearts on higher things.




“To love one’s neighbor is a tough command.  It works better for people who live far away.”
(C J Langenhoven ~ South African poet ~ 1873-1932)



“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth no rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(Matthew 6:19-21 ~ NASB)





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

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