Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Please do not be offended

- Here's the guitar.
- O thank-you, Dad. Now I can play my song.
- It looks a bit rough. Is that the one Peter gave you?
- Yeah. It's been on the street.

The guitar was held together on its back by nuts and bolts that would have killed a man if the instrument was used as a weapon. It was, as one of my staff remarked, a Frankintar. The neck was bowed since the steel brace for it was broken, and the strings were almost a half inch off the finger board. (But I didn't know this was important.) He took it up in his hands and struck a chord. I thought there was something wrong with the sound but I wondered what this master self-taught guitarist would do with it.

- I can't play this - it doesn't hold its tune.

He detuned it in a few seconds to a tone lower. He played what should have been an octave on the low E string.

- This is so disappointing, Dad. I can't play my song on it.
- It's unplayable, is it? So maybe this one wasn't Peter's. I didn't think it came with a skull and crossbones.
- No. It is Peter's. I put that on it.
- I had wondered if it was going to work.
- Well it doesn't. Look at the strings! And the truss rod is snapped. But what could I expect from you! You don't know shit about guitars. Couldn't you please go and rent me one from Larsen's.

The conversation was longer than this. He held his cool. He never went remotely delusional. It was the first real conversation I have had with him in several years of trying. I went downtown - laughing all the way at the truth of his statement about my knowledge of guitars. I asked at Larsen's if the old guitar was fixable - removing the neck and replacing the broken truss. I knew it wasn't - so I bought a new one and gave them the old one for parts.

When I got back to the hospital, James was asleep. The nurse told me he was probably bored. She knocked on his door. Nice view. I went into the common room and opened the case, waiting patiently. He got up. He thanked me and took up the guitar to play. I will take a film next time. The skill is astonishing - whether in traditional chords with spontaneous singing, or slow arpeggiated work or high-speed right-handed finger hammer strokes which he said he learned 15 years ago at Tsow-tun-lelum, a healing place we had sent him to at an earlier time.

Here was David and Saul in one person, an hour's conversation and wonderful music too without even a shadow of delusion.

Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.

- O Dad - would you please get me a pack of cigarettes. I'll pay you back. I'll be getting my welfare cheque here so I can.


Beyond Words said...

I rejoice with you with goosebumps and tears!

Bob MacDonald said...

Thank-you Kathy. I had said in the past, it's a wonder with all the brain damage that his body worked at all. So the guitar was a bit of an allegory!

The move from jail into the mental health facility is a direct answer to a specific prayer for him by my pastor two weeks ago. It is particularly important that the mental health system not just put him on the street with no support. And they have come through - I hope with more wisdom than the last attempt several years ago. (Though the intent was always good, the program in that case was too generous and too unsupervised.)