Plucking Thistles

Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow. *


The boy had hope written across his smiling face.

Hope is a beautiful thing, especially in a child. It animates and motivates, forging dreams for the future.  I love the beauty hope generates in young folks.

Hope is not something I enjoy dashing on the rocks of reality.  The results can be ugly.  I don’t love ugly.

This had all the earmarks of ugly.

His father, having told me he was trying to teach his son the trade of picking—of buying used objects for a small amount of money and flipping them for more money, asked me to advise the boy.

The hopeful young man handed me a clarinet-shaped object.  By that, I mean the long black piece of plastic with metal keys attached had been a clarinet in another life.  No longer.

It was unplayable, with bent keys and broken springs.  The pads, the life source for a woodwind instrument, had long ago deteriorated and crumbled away to dust, leaving no way for the individual notes to sound.

A re-pad job on a clarinet would cost more than the price this sad instrument could ever bring.  The other issues—bent keys and broken springs—would only drive the potential investment in the old horn up into the stratosphere.

As I examined the instrument, my dismay showing on my features, the hopeful face of the boy that peered into mine changed perceptibly.  He steeled himself for the bad news he sensed was coming.  I glanced into his eyes and saw the unhappiness there.

What a disaster!

I wondered—for a moment—if I should tell him a fib, a white lie.  Just a little one—for his own good.  I would save his pride and give him hope for another day.

“It’s a fine clarinet, but I’m not buying them right now.  You might check at another store.  They may need it worse than I do.”

Can’t you just hear me?  For him.  I would be saying the words to save him the pain of failure.

I didn’t say those words.  That would have been the easy way out for me, too.  But sooner or later, the boy would have to face two different truths:  First, his investment was not going to bear fruit.  Second, the hateful old shop owner lied to him.

I won’t lie. 

Gently, I began to speak to him about what makes a clarinet play and what gives it value.  Pointing out the catastrophic defects in his instrument, I explain why it would not make sense to repair the horn.

He is disappointed.  Horribly disappointed.

But, he wants to learn.  Asking questions, he probes my store of knowledge so he will make better choices the next time.  I happily share what I know, taking time from my workday tasks to aid him.  We make comparisons with functioning instruments.  We talk about the need for knowledge about the brands of horns and of the importance of a good carrying case.

As he prepares to leave, he reaches out to shake my hand, his tiny one dwarfed by mine.  His father follows suit, expressing his gratitude for my time and my willingness to share.  He mentions a sacrifice on my part to help the young man, and I wave aside the thought.  There is nothing to what I have done, I suggest.

Suddenly, I remember why I do this—why I have done it for a lifetime. 

The opportunity to plant seeds far exceeds the objective of making a profit. 

Oh, I need to make a profit to keep my doors open, but the reward of seeing the eyes of that young man when he left—no longer just full of hope, but also bright with the pride that comes from being treated with respect—no money in the world could ever purchase that.

Some would say the loving thing would have been to let him keep his dream alive—the dream of making money on that instrument.  Some today even suggest that speaking hard truth in the face of error is hateful.

I wonder which is more loving:  Is it to dash his immediate hope as his expectation for the future is built up and he is equipped to meet that future, or is it to keep quiet and let him believe a lie?

petunia2The boy will return, of that I am sure.  The day may come when he has learned the lesson taught him today so well that he is a threat to my own livelihood.  I smile at the thought, enjoying the expectation of his success.

Weeds are uprooted—seeds of hope planted in their place.  What better task could I have?  What more reward could I ask?

How does your garden grow?



These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.
(Zechariah 8:16 ~ ESV)


Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either. 
(Albert Einstein ~ German born theoretical scientist ~ 1879-1955)



*  (Abraham Lincoln ~ U.S. President ~ 1809-1865)


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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *