UPDATE: This post won an award for “creative non-fiction” at the 2015 LUW writers conference.
I can be cynical.
Cynical: believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity. A general distrust of others’ motives, believing that humans are selfish by nature, ruled by emotion, and heavily influenced by the same primitive instincts that helped humans survive in the wild.
I wasn’t always this way. It is a trait that has evolved over the past five years or so. Yes, I fight it. I take my thoughts to battle. But still, with all of the heartbreaking news and depressing social media feeds, it compounds the issue.
So, yesterday when I went to a local guitar shop, my mind was churning over a cynical situation that had been really bothering me. I grabbed my old guitar out of the trunk, walked into the store, and placed it down on the counter. I breathed deep, because this was hallowed ground. The smell of wood and lacquer and musicians reliving the good ‘ol days, rested my mind. I smiled as the shop owner stopped jamming with the only other customer in the store and then walked behind the register.
“What’s this?” he asked, eyeballing my ratty old guitar. His gaze skimmed over the not-so-sexy lines of my unusual guitar.
I pressed my lips, feeling a wave of protection flood over me. No one makes fun of my blue guitar. This instrument was bought in China for $5 US dollars. It had been my companion on the dirty, rancid forty hour train rides through rice fields and bread loaf mountains. I was stopped and searched at customs in Malaysia, Thailand, and Macau because I as too stubborn to leave this guitar.
I told him these things. He played it and confirmed what I already knew… My guitar had died, but I still clung to our memories in hopes that the shop owner could resurrect life into it again.
No, he couldn’t.
I stared down at it a long time, looking over the doodles and the collected stickers and stamps, which mirrored my old passport. What would I do with it now? I couldn’t just throw it away, or donate, or keep it as a decoration. Maybe I could just hang it on the wall for display, but I knew the o.c.d. decorator inside me would never let me do that. I had even written this guitar into one of my books and considered it a character. My heart clenched and I strolled over to the wall of guitars to hide the emotion on my face. Who cries over a buried guitar, one that would most likely end up collecting dust in the back of my closet?
The new guitars with their shiny wood and shimmering metal strings, sang to me, beckoning. Their voices rich and full. So much different than my humid warped, aged guitar. I caressed the lines of the beautiful instruments with jealousy and longing.
I stopped. There it hung. An acoustic electric that I had always wanted. Not so extravagant, and yet it would take me a while to save for. The shop owner pulled it down, selling me all the bells and whistles. Yet, I had already been sold. I just couldn’t get it yet… not for a while yet.
“Sit down and play. See how it sounds, how it feels,” he urged.
I pulled up a cushioned stool and sat down. It was like meeting a new friend. I’d like to imagine that my fingers flew up and down the frets with fluidity and grace, but I’m sure they weren’t, as I was still a bit frazzled. Picking and strumming, getting a feel for its song.
I began to tell the shop owner and other customer about an amp I had in the basement that wasn’t working anymore. We chatted. Small talk about how I was sad about my guitar and maybe someday I’ll buy this one. They were nice people. I’d hung around enough music shops to know that they are all generally nice people.
I continued to play. Time stalled as it usually does when I create music, or art, or novels. The walls faded away. I was falling in love.
A tap on my shoulder and a show of a receipt. “It’s yours.” He pointed. “The guitar.”
I stood, almost dropping the instrument. “What? No. I’ll have to come get it another time.”
“No really. He wanted you to have it.” He pointed to the only other customer who was getting ready to leave. The man was unassuming in his faded jeans and t-shirt.
I wondered why…
Right here… Here is where my cynicism makes an appearance. What did he want in return? What were his motivations? I looked down to see what I was wearing. Turtle-neck sweater, no make-up, and hair in a bun. I had my wedding ring on and I had talked briefly about my kids playing guitar earlier.
“Why?” I asked.
The customer paused, then said, “because I have money and it has caused me nothing but heartache. I want to do something nice with it.”
I refused — even went to hang the guitar back on the hook.
The kind man just shook his head. “It’s already been paid for. It’s done. Just be happy.”
I was happy. I was ecstatic!
Tears welled in my eyes. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. “I don’t know how to thank you.” I struggled for words.
“You just did.”
I stopped him from leaving. “Well let me get a picture with you.”
He refused this time. He didn’t want any fan fare.
“Let me at least give you a hug.” So I did. It wasn’t strange or awkward. It was a meeting of similar hearts, bound by the innocent love of music.
Driving home, I felt both joyous and inadequate. What to do with such an unrequited show of generosity? People are good. He restored my faith in humanity. I thought of the many ways I could pay it forward because I knew I’d never see him again. And I also knew that’s the way he would want things to end.
I learned a lesson yesterday. Yes, there are tough things that we go through that can turn us cynical, doubtful, and hopeless. But little miracles happen everyday. It doesn’t have to be something as big as this to make you see the good in people. Look around. It seems everyone is in a funk. What can you do to brighten their day? I promise it will make your day better in return. It will make you feel rich with happiness. I think back to that man and how he said, “money gave him nothing but heartache.”
When I was leaving the guitar shop, with my old lifeless guitar in one hand and my new hope-filled guitar in the other, I looked back. The kind man had a huge smile on his face and I knew that the act of giving… is where the treasure truly lies.
Thanks for stopping by. I love your comments. Has there ever been a time when you were the recipient of unrequited generosity?