An old Chinese proverb says that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.
When I was knee high to a grasshopper, I became enamored with the guitar. I would watch performers on TV and would sing along. I even made little guitars out of milk cartons and rubber bands to try to emulate the artists I watched.
My family struggled to make ends meet and the purchase of a guitar was just not something my parents could afford so I kept my yearning mostly to myself.
When I was 15 I was hired by a local senior citizen to clean her house once a week and to read to her. I’d go and sweep, wash the dishes, clean the mirrors and counters and then make her a pot of tea. We’d read from books or a newspaper until she was tired and she’d give me my pay until the next week.
After a summer of this work I’d saved up what I thought was a princely sum, $25.
I waltzed into the local music store and looked at the glistening instruments hanging along the wall. They were all too expensive for me. The store owner, however, said he had something that I might be able to afford. It was a small cheap guitar, Decca brand.
The neck was warped and it was hard to play but it was a guitar so I plunked down my $25 and took it home.
I spent the next few months teaching myself to play. The guitar was so bad my fingers bled but I’d play until they got numb, I was so determined. I’d play every spare minute I had.
The next summer I met a person who would change everything. I met Karen. She was a 20-something college student who played guitar and sang folk music. She began taking me to the local coffee house, The Grounds. There I played and sang folk songs with the local Bohemians picking up techniques and tunes.
The next Christmas, Karen had moved to Juneau and she invited me to come and visit her and her roommate over the holidays. So I packed my little bag and my terrible little guitar and ferried to Juneau from Ketchikan.
Karen and her roommate had set up a sparse hemlock tree in the living room all decorated with hand-made paper ornaments. They had set it up so early it was already drying out and the needles were falling off. But we had the greatest time singing and baking and taking our cheer to people around Juneau.
I woke up on Christmas morning and Karen and her roommate were already up and had cooked pancakes for breakfast. I really wasn’t expecting much knowing that they were poor college students with more exuberance than money.
They brought out a large triangular shaped box wrapped in color newspaper comics and handed it to me. When I opened it up I could scarcely believe it. It was a beautiful blonde colored Yamaha acoustic guitar. We tuned it up and its golden tones filled the air. They had both sacrificed other things, like food, in order to buy it for me.
I made a lot of music with that guitar. Karen taught me a lot about playing guitar and performing. She was also my confidante and role model. It was flattering that these older women would take the time to mentor a clumsy teenager.
I’ve never forgotten her kindness and know that without her I might never have learned the things she taught me.
Truly, the student was ready and the teacher came.
But here’s the thing…
I had already made an effort on my own.
I had a burning desire to learn. Not just a whim, it was a life-long yearning that had to be fulfilled.
I worked my butt off with what was available to me at the time.
I found a way to make my dream a reality.
I didn’t just wish or pray for it. I was determined to make it happen.
Throughout my life I’ve found that you have to start something before the universe makes things move in your direction.
A law of physics says that an object once set in motion will continue in the direction it is sent unless acted upon by an outside force.
It must be set in motion first and then it goes.
There are all kinds of outside forces that would turn your “object” in another direction but with periodic course correction, it will go inexorably to the destination you set.
The “universe” or whatever you call it will provide teachers along the way as you are ready for them.
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P.P.P.S.S.S. Yes the featured image is me and Karen playing in the coffee house in 1968.