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James R. Stout

For What It's Worth

            Back in the spring of 1967 there was a hit record by a group called “Buffalo Springfield”. The song was entitled, “For What It’s Worth”. It has some great guitar playing, thought-provoking lyrics, and a very catchy line that goes “Hey, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.”. I was only 11 years old when it was a hit and to my 11-year-old brain I didn’t think about the lyrics much or how the music was put together. I just knew that I liked the way it sounded.

            I started playing guitar about a year or so later and sometime in those early days of my learning the guitar I rediscovered that record and set my mind to learning it. The main chords were easy and pretty straight forward. But there were two guitar parts that were subtly played yet the record would never sound the same without them. I won’t go into those parts only to say that they were very important to the “sound” of that record. Several years later a friend of mine came over and brought his guitar and we did some jamming. At one point I asked him if he knew “For What It’s Worth” and he said that he did. So, I told him to play the main rhythm guitar chords which he began to do. That’s when I started to play the subtle acoustic guitar part that I had come to love. My friend stopped playing and looked at me.

            “I never heard that guitar part in the record until just now!” he said.

            He was amazed that the part had been there all the time, but he just hadn’t picked it out. This from a guy who played guitar extremely well. I mean, he could nail the most difficult lead guitar parts of the day such as the lead guitar on Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. I guess I was surprised that he had never picked out that part on “For What It’s Worth”.  It’s not a difficult part to play, but it has a very important function in the overall sound of the record.

            Thinking on this I realized that sometimes this is the way that life is. How many times do we ignore or not notice something that is absolutely integral to our lives until it isn’t there anymore? Too many to name, I’m sure. About the same period of time as that record came out my family moved into a new house (new for us) and it would end up being the house that I would live in until I moved out to get married. The house did not have central air conditioning. In fact, we only had one window unit that was in the den and we only ran it when we were all together watching TV in the evening. The rest of house was cooled by way of screened windows that were open and something that most houses of the 1950’s (this house was built in 1959) had. It was called an attic fan. It was a very big fan installed in the attic, usually in the hallway, and when you turned it on louvers in the ceiling of the hall opened and the fan created a draft throughout the house. I must tell you that it was hard to get to sleep without that fan running! Well, back to my point. Sometimes I would get hot in my bedroom no matter what. This led to me doing something to keep cool. I would take my pillow and quilt into the hallway. I would lay the quilt out on the hardwood floor and sleep right there in the hall. It was wonderful sleep. In the morning, my mother would be the first up and she would chase me out of the hall and tell me to get in my bed. I would fairly well spring from the floor in a fluid motion with not a thought given to having just slept the night through on hardwood flooring.

            At some point in time I stopped sleeping on the hall floor. I couldn’t begin to tell you why. While I was in great physical shape for years to come, I would one day think back on how with such ease that I used to jump up from the floor and not have an ache or pain to show for having slept on that hard floor all night. If I slept on a hardwood floor tonight, and I’m not even sure that I could get to sleep laying on a hardwood floor, tomorrow morning I might require a crane to be lifted off the floor or perhaps a couple of paramedics. I realize now that being in the shape that I was when I was a kid was integral to my life. But over time it went away. I got older. I got creakier.

            Another example is my eyesight. I went for a job interview when I was about 25 years old and had to go through a physical examination. Part of the examination was an eye test. It wasn’t just a chart on a wall that you read off the lines. It was a weird little device that looked like goggles that you bent over and looked into and there were a series of letters, numbers, and shapes that you had to identify. When it was over, I asked the doctor how my eyesight was. He told me that I had better than average eyesight. My left eye was 20/18 and my right eye was 20/17. Both were better than 20/20. About the time I was 38 years old I still had good eyesight. I didn’t need glasses and I didn’t have any problems reading etc. But sometime between 38 and 40 my eyes started to change. At first, I complained that the darned book publishers were printing paperbacks in smaller print than before. I was getting mad about it too. There was a whole lot of squinting going on. Finally, I went to an optometrist when I was 40 and I learned that I would need to employ reading glasses. Well, it was all downhill from there. By 45 I was having to wear “graduated lenses” which really meant that I needed tri-focal’s! NOT FAIR! Today? Take away my glasses and I can’t read a book. In fact, I might not be able to make out a billboard sign. Great eyesight was integral to my life for the first 38 years. I miss it. I miss not having to wear glasses.

            The real point here is that I have learned to pay attention to what is important in my life and to not take it for granted. I say that, but chances are in 15 years I’ll wish I hadn’t taken for granted something from today. But I am going to try to not take for granted the integral yet subtle things in my life. I used the analogy of that old record earlier. I’ll use a similar one to end this entry. Have you ever listened to a symphony orchestra? It’s something that everyone should do at least once in their life. Go listen to a professional full-blown orchestra and you’ll not be sorry. Unless you’re a conductor or composer you probably won’t sit there and recognize all of the parts and all of the instruments used. Some will be obvious just the way some things about our lives are obvious. You’ll pick out the solos because, well, their solos. You’ll pick out the rumble of the kettle drum or the brass section that stands out. But you may not hear a lot of the other parts. But take them out and you’ll miss them. I promise that you will. Something just won’t sound right. Maybe you won’t know exactly what it is, but you’ll know something is missing. The good news is those parts can easily be put right back in the mix. It’s not quite that way in our lives. Some things can be put back, but some things you never get back. Ask the brave soldier who comes home from the middle east with no legs. You can give him prostatic limbs, but they’re not the same as flesh and bone. God makes better legs than we do. Way better. Ask the young couple who loses a child and then a few years later are blessed with another child. They are so thankful for their new child, but it doesn’t mean that they forget about the one that they lost. They never will forget.

            So, for what it’s worth, pay attention to things and enjoy them while you have them. It may not always be so.

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