Beyond Room 119

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Fun fact: A guitar that’s in tune is much more fun to play than one that’s not.

I’ll be honest. In the self-paced course that I’m using to learn guitar, I skipped the entire “pre-playing” section and went straight to the good parts – the ones where you actually learn chords. All that boring auxiliary stuff, like how to hold a pick, what the parts of the guitar are called, and how to read chord boxes? Yeah, I figured I’d either pick that up along the way or double back later. To preface the rest of this story, the last lesson in that skipped section is about tuning the guitar.

Sometime last week, a friend of mine asked me if I’d tuned my guitar yet. Keep in mind that I grew up in a piano household, where you tune it once or year or so (or in our case, never. But I still knew it was supposed to be tuned once a year). Because of that, I’m pretty sure my response to his question was a confused, “What?” As the implication of his question sunk in, I asked, “Sooo…how often are you supposed to tune it?”

“Well, it depends, right?” To a beginner, that’s not the most helpful answer. Luckily, he continued. “It depends how often you play it, how hot it is outside…[insert more reasons here that I’ve since forgotten].” My takeaway from this conversation was that my newborn guitar was a bit overdue for a tune up.

A day or two later during my next practice, I noticed that my chords sounded terrible and came up with two conclusions: either I had seriously regressed with my chords or she was indeed out of tune. Nothing sounded right, and she just wasn’t as fun to play. And “Hound Dog,” the song that I’m working on, just didn’t sound a thing like the Elvis version anymore. You’d think I would have tuned her right away after that, right?


That was a week ago, and though I’ve practiced a couple of times since then, I didn’t get around to tuning her until today. It took a while because it was my first time, but it was actually a fun process to watch the little ticks on the tuner tell me when I was getting closer to the mark, when I overshot it, and when it was just right. I felt like I was in the story of Goldilocks, guitar style. And when I played her afterwards, that first D chord rang out so beautifully that the angels above must have been singing along.

A guitar that’s in tune is much more fun to play than one that’s not. It’s a pretty obvious statement. Which then begs the question: If even my untrained ear could tell my guitar was out of tune several days ago, why did I wait this long to do it?

The short answer is that I wanted to skip to the good stuff. I don’t have a whole lot of time to practice guitar, so when I do, I want to focus on the substantial pieces. Picking through my chords to learn them correctly. Practicing chord changes. Playing one of the songs that I’m working on. I want to do the parts that I actually notice progressing and not spend my time on pieces that can’t be measured. I wanted to practice only what “mattered.” I wanted to spend all my time on the track, and none of it stretching. I didn’t want to accept that the stretching is a necessary part to perform well in the race, though, and these “auxiliary” pieces are actually foundational instead.

All this thinking then pointed me to another fun fact: It’s a lot more fun to live a life that’s in tune than one that’s not. A life that’s in tune is one in which we’re acting in a way that fulfills our purpose. One in which we find meaning, and one that energizes us each day.

So if a life in tune is so great, why do we allow ourselves to stay out of tune for so long sometimes?

I think for many of the same reasons that I experienced with my guitar. We don’t want to invest the energy in the foundational aspects of ourselves because it takes time and effort, and we often don’t see an immediate reward. Why do we need to spend time centering ourselves, setting goals, or examining our motivations when we can be out doing things with others, strengthening relationships, and exploring the rest of the world?

None of those things are bad, but if they aren’t coming from the right place and the right intentions, they tend to deplete our energy rather than restore it. It’s not an easy process to truly know ourselves, and it’s not one that will ever truly be done. It takes trial and error, tuning the knobby thing a bit this way, a bit that way, until the sound is beautiful again. When we spend the time to do this and establish and strengthen those inner pieces first, we’re able to engage more fully and more intentionally in the rest of our lives. By tuning the strings of our soul, the chords of our lives then have more power to resonate with the songs of others.

It’s not an easy process, but it’s one that is well worth the effort. And with that said, I think it’s about time for me to go enjoy the results of that effort and make some music!

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On a more serious note

I’ve tried to write a post about four different times over the last week, and none have them have captured what I was trying to say. I think it’s because there have been quite a few emotions racing around, and none of them have quite crossed the finish line to definitively win the battle for mental attention. Instead, they’re on an endless track, changing the lead every lap or two.

One of the more recent ones is disbelief, with sorrow as a close second. A friend of many of my friends passed away this weekend. I never met her, but she sounded like an absolutely wonderful person, full of warmth, enthusiasm, and love. Any loss brings sorrow, but this one in particular hit those who knew her hard, as she died giving birth to her first child. I think sometimes it’s easy to think that in the 21st century, that doesn’t happen anymore. Advances in medicine have made childbirth exponentially safer. These things just don’t happen. Except, it did. And a little girl will grow up, hearing stories about her mother, but never being able to place a voice, smell, or memory to her.

Having never met Mandy, I can’t say that I’m grieving for her passing, if that makes sense. I’m sorry for the loss, and I want to help support those who truly are grieving. Personally, though, I mourn instead for all the lost opportunities and possibilities that will never come to fruition. The big moments, sure: a mom’s beaming face at her daughter’s high school graduation, the tears at her wedding, and family vacations to Disney, the beach, and more. But the small moments are what make up a life, and there are thousands of those that will never happen now: the nights spent curled up next to a sick toddler, going to the store for the first bra fitting, a mother doing her daughter’s makeup for a school dance, the mother-daughter arguments (and resolutions), the chance for Ava to get to know her mom through daily laughs, car rides, and trips to the park, and so much more.

I think of the family I saw at Baskin-Robbins the other night. It was a precious family of four: mom, dad, Stefan (an adorable four year old with chocolate all over his fingertips), and Charley (his three year old sister who wanted to tell me all about the copperhead they found that day). Throughout our conversation, Charley kept offering her parents a bite of her ice cream, mom cleaned Stefan’s hands, and dad translated Charley-speak to regular English. It was obvious how well they worked together, how much the parents loved their kids, and the kids were confident, warm, and secure from that. Every child deserves that opportunity. It breaks my heart a little bit each time I learn about a specific situation in which that isn’t the reality, for whatever reason.

I know there’s a reason for everything, and I don’t doubt that good can come from this. From what I’ve heard about the incredible outpouring of love and support, there already is much good present. But there are certainly days when I wonder why life isn’t fair. Today is one of those days. I don’t know the master plan, but tonight, my role in it is simple. Tonight, tomorrow, and moving forward, I pray for little Ava and her dad to find the love, support, and strength to carry on and live each day the way Mandy would have. And I pray for the intentionality to live each moment in a way that makes the world around me a little better, much like Mandy did. And though I don’t know if that’s the perfect answer, I think that sometimes, that’s the best we can do.