this old guitar


Last January I wrote about one of the articles in the New York Times’ “7-Day Happiness Challenge” where one writer described “The Secret Power of the Eight Minute Phone Call” in rekindling a friendship. Someone she had not heard from in a long time asked for an eight minute phone call. The writer agreed, as much out of curiosity as anything. When they got on the phone together, her friend said the eight-minute limit was a way of saying not all the ground had to be made up at once. They knew they were friends; they trusted that. Why not pick up in the present tense and keep going?

I have three or four eight-minute rituals that have become a part of my life since then and I am richer for them. What was required to make them happen was mostly the commitment to make them happen.

It was a lesson worth learning, and I am beginning to wonder if it might be more far reaching.

Since we moved to Guilford (seven and a half years ago), my guitar has never really found a place to hang out. It lives in its case most of the time, which then has to be tucked in behind the chair that Ginger uses when she works from home. As a result, I have played a good deal less over the past seven years–not by choice as much by convenience, I guess.

But I love my guitar. As I was thinking about this post, it struck me that we have been together for forty years. I bought it from another chaplain when I was doing CPE at Baylor Medical Center in 1983. He had bought the Alvarez Yairi to learn how to play guitar–a rather expensive beginning–and then decided it was too much work, so he sold it to me. My guitar has gone with me to close to forty youth camps, caught the glow from campfires, traveled to living rooms and church auditoriums, as well as being handed off to anyone who asked if they could play it.

It has been a good friend, though far too often in recent years I have only picked it up when I was asked to sing, rather than fostering the friendship by playing for the sake of playing.

Through the kindness of another friend, I got a brace that allows me to hang the guitar on the wall so it will be in within reach, rather than tucked behind Ginger’s chair. I’ve had the brace a while as well because I couldn’t find enough open space on a wall in our little 1795 house to hang it. Then still other friends came with a request that changed things. She asked if I would sing Spencer LaJoye’s “Plowshare Prayer” at their wedding in October. I love the song, but I don’t know it by heart. I told Ginger I wanted to start playing it regularly so I would know it well by the wedding. She asked what kept me from playing my guitar more often and I said to her what I have already told you.

We began trying to figure out how to move a few things around so we could create wall space enough from my guitar to be within reach, which required a domino run of moving pictures here and there, as well as rearranging some of thekeepsakes we have on our mantle and other shelves. In all, it took about an hour–and that included walking to the hardware store to get the screws and wall anchors I needed to hang the brace.

One of the early songs I learned on a guitar that preceded my Alvarez was by John Denver and gave me the title for this post. The first verse says,

this old guitar taught me to sing a love song
it showed me how to laugh and how to cry
it introduced me to some friends of mine
and brightened up some days
and helped me make it thru some lonely nights
what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night

When I said I wanted to sing the song all summer to get ready, I wanted more than just to get prepared for a performance–at least it feels that way now. Something in me was asking for the guitar version on an eight-minute phone call: an almost nightly commitment to play and sing at least one song to remember who we are to each other.

Whether the songs are old or new, it will be good to be together.


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