By Karen Mannino Monday, October 14th, 2013
There is a pawn shop in my home town called Dutch’s which is closing this month. Most things like that come to an end sooner or later. We will miss Dutch’s very much.
Why are we all weepy with nostalgia over a pawn shop? I actually have no idea, because I didn’t go in there all that often. But pawn shops are kind of interesting, by nature. This one has a grave yard of abandoned string instruments in it’s basement. Lots of forgotten violins from people’s attics, or first viola’s that played the first off key scales before someone dropped it, and their musical ambitions, or the investment was made for an upgrade. Cracked scrolls and missing sound posts. Something about all these instruments made their owners toss them away. I have a soft spot for broken instruments, and especially violins. I saw a little half size violin at a thrifts store once with a nail through the back. Someone had made it into a wall hanging, rather clumsily. It was kind of heart breaking. It looked like it had been ruthlessly tortured and stabbed in the back. I wanted to adopt it, but I knew I would never find the time and skills to make it musical again. I didn’t really think there was any hope of that. But the owner of Dutch’s, before he died, found someone who he knew would not be daunted by the task of caring for all those unwanted strings.
I’m sure many of you have seen this video about the Landfill Harmonic, but if not, take a look, it’s pretty neat.
These kids live in poverty. But they are free in a way that I am not. They aren’t distracted by what they don’t have, the way kids who have stuff are. There is a fear, in childhood, of having to pick prizes last and getting the one no one else wanted, or worse yet, picking the uncool toy and being excited about it, only to find that everyone else thought it was dumb. Value gets assigned by desirability. And we all know our desires can be pretty disordered and silly. These kids start with trash, the stuff no one else wants. They are free of that pettiness. They are unafraid to dream and make something beautiful from it. They aren’t worried about how they compare.
Dutch’s is sending them all those broken violin for their orchestra. Kids here probably wouldn’t be free enough to appreciate a broken viola. They would see the lack of shine on it and think that made a difference in the value of music. They would be held back by their wealth, their acclimation to new things that work well or get returned to the store. But where these instruments are going, they will be means to a much bigger, more beautiful end.
My sister, when she was a child, used to lament my families lack of money, because she felt that it held her back from achieving her full potential as a musician. My parents weren’t going to pick up and leave for a bigger city so that she could compete or study with top musicians. Last year when she gave her senior recital, our grandfather observed that it was her poverty that gave her the courage to pursue this impractical dream of music. As she dreams and plans her life, she is unfettered by an acclimation to a wealthy lifestyle. She is not afraid of eating simply, at home, every night. She is not bothered by shopping at second hand stores, and forgoing the latest gadgets. She does not have as much to maintain. She is free to risk her future on a dream that might not pan out. With no net below her, to hesitate might mean to fall. So she will put her whole heart into her music.
Material poverty gives one an opportunity to focus on the truly great things in life, which are free, like music.
Further, poverty, as a virtue gives us the opportunity to assign value to everything in relations to the really eternal things that are free, like God’s love. Basically, everything else is worthless in comparison. If your dream is the kingdom of heaven, you must hold nothing back, fear no leap of faith, risk every earthly thing to attain it. The willingness to give anything, let go of even roof over my head, and food in my belly, to attain the kingdom of heaven; that is a blessed poverty.
Karen Mannino is too old now to be a child prodigy, but she enjoys mild notoriety as a mean older sister, and an amateur ceramic artist. She lives in Spokane, WA.