From my workbench in the back room of the music store, I heard her exclamation of dismay.
Just moments earlier, the Lovely Lady, knowing I had over-promised and was likely to under-perform if I didn’t have some relief, had suggested that she would take care of any new business until I could complete the jobs due this afternoon. It was a good plan. My work was going well and it appeared that deadlines might actually be met.
Then I heard her unhappy outburst.
She would be calling me anyway, so I headed for the front. The sight that met my eyes was, to a lover of fine musical instruments, a sad and disastrous horror.
The young man wasn’t smiling either, as he stood beside the broken and splintered guitar. But, I remembered a few months ago, when I had installed an electrical pickup system in the aging acoustic Martin, giving him a new facet to its usefulness.
He had had a smile on his face as he carried the instrument out on that day. He had been sure the beautiful guitar, one he had acquired while still in high school, would be the only one he would ever need.
It took a single moment—just a few seconds of forgetfulness—to dash that belief forever.
An afternoon at work, good intentions, a momentary distraction, and the guitar was under the wheels of the huge truck. Completely destroyed.
Lifetime plans dashed. Instantly.
As the young man spoke to me, he gently touched the fragments of wood. I could see the pain in his face—could feel it in his voice. But, there was something else in his voice—indeed, something different written on his face. He had come in for a purpose, and it was not to commiserate over the fate of the beloved instrument.
Purpose! That was what I heard in his voice. Purpose and resolve.
He would not dwell on the past. He was ready to move on.
“Let me show you my new guitar!”
The instrument he drew out of the new case was a beauty to behold. A custom guitar, handmade by an artisan from a nearby town, it simply begged to be played. The young guitarist gave in and sat for a few moments to demonstrate the capabilities of his new love. The crisp, clean lines of the instrument were matched by the music that poured out of it.
The clarity and warmth of tone that emanated from the polished spruce and rosewood box were surprising and expected, all at once.
When he finished playing, we spoke for a few moments about how happy he was with the new tool he held in his hands. He means to play this guitar for a lifetime, as well.
But, there was more. He is ready to leave the old broken guitar in the past, but he wanted a favor from me.
“Is it possible that the pickup system from the Martin will fit in this one?”
It made sense. He had spent hard-earned dollars on that system—quite a few of them. We might just as well salvage it and keep it in use. It will do the job just fine.
He is simply being practical. But, then again, perhaps there is a little sentiment in the request.
The need to move forward is clear. The old guitar will never, never play another note. But, part of it might be incorporated into the new one. The old will aid the new to achieve the vision the young man has always had for his future.
It will be a bridge, of sorts, between the past and the future.
I will help him cross the bridge.
I’m anticipating seeing the smile on his face again, just as I did the last time he carried a guitar out of my shop.
The future awaits.
As I sat thinking about what I would write tonight, my thoughts were inexorably drawn to bridges. It really is almost unavoidable. You see, I am surrounded by paintings of bridges in the room in which I sit. I have given in to the urge to write about them before.
I have written of the past and the future, using a bridge as a metaphor for the place where we stand, gazing first behind, and then ahead. Looking back, we see the events of the past clearly. Looking forward, we see an uncertain future.
I have insisted that I must cross boldly to the future, encouraging my readers to do the same. But, tonight I’m wondering.
What do we do when the things we must leave behind were what we loved most in life?
I know folks who have stood at the approach to the bridge for weeks, months, even years, never moving. Gazing back at what is, even now, lost in their past, they still see nothing across the bridge to coax them to set the first foot on the platform.
Like the Children of Israel in the desert, they receive the sustenance of their God who promises them a place far better than any they left behind, and yet they pine for the food they ate when they were slaves. (Numbers 11:4-6)
I also have stood in cemeteries and looked at the pile of freshly-turned dirt, reluctant to turn my back. I’ve watched dreams disappear into the air, like the morning mist in sunlight.
The disappointments and tragedies pile up behind me, as they do for every human who has ever walked this earth.
We can cling to them, like so many splintered guitars, for everything we’re worth.
There will never—ever—be another note of music from that source. The voices of the past are forever mute—in this world, anyway.
The human spirit is, however, designed by its Creator to be resilient and nearly impossible to crush. Like my young guitar-playing friend, it hears the call from the future, and must answer.
We’ve stood at the bridge for long enough, looking back. The past cannot be retrieved, but what we’ve learned in it may be incorporated into the future.
Our memories are woven—hopelessly intertwined—into the fabric of our lives; we will never lose them.
I like the young guitarist’s way of thinking.
True, there is great sadness in the past. There was great joy as well.
Both will be found again.
In front of us.
And one day—one glorious day—the last bridge will be before us. Nothing awaits on the other side, but great, great joy. No sadness. No pain.
Joy. Across the last bridge.
I’m still walking. Still feeling. Still trusting.
There will be sweet music again. Of that, I’m sure.
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
(Philippians 3:13-14 ~ MSG)
Oh, my dear little librarian. You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.
(from The Music Man ~ Meredith Willson ~ American playwright ~ 1902-1984)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.