Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Guitar That Saved My Life

Do I have a tendency to overstate? I don't think so, maybe. But this guitar did indeed save my life. 

1974. When I was thirteen my world was rocked (non-musically) by the divorce of my parents. This announcement caught me totally off guard. My sisters were probably more attuned to tensions in the household and saw it coming, but not me. 

I had already been struggling with violent anger, depression and suicidal thoughts as a pre-teen. Teenage angst and a now uncertain future only amplified (pun not intended) these struggles.

Flash back a couple of months to my thirteenth birthday. My parents spent the heavenly sum of $300 for an Ibanez copy of a Gibson 175. This probably should've been my first clue of the impending announcement. The used Fender Mustang at the store had just sold. The Ibanez was my second choice. This was my first electric. 

I was getting serious about guitar. My father was thrilled by my new found interest in Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt and Jazz. For me guitar was a distraction and an identity. Perusing the notes in my Junior High yearbooks clearly shows my identity as "Tom the Guitar Player". That was great, but because this was Indiana and I wasn't "Tom the Basketball Star". I wasn't attaining the popularity that I craved. Being blind in one eye and thus having no depth perception made it difficult for me to sink simple 20-foot jump shots. I was known as "Air Strahle" as in air ball.

Enter Stan Walker. Star of the basketball team who befriended me. Not sure why. Maybe because his older brother was a musician too. Maybe because I was a charity case. Help the unpopular kid move up a notch or two. I didn't care why or mind. That is until he invited me to a Christian meeting. Ah, this is how it's going to be. A friendship with strings attached.

I was a declared atheist. "I don't believe in God. I believe in science." I would tell people. Though admittedly science didn't adequately answer all my questions. Like what's beyond the edges of the known universe? What number is bigger than infinity? What is time? 

I begrudgingly went with Stan to a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting for junior and senior high students. To my surprise there weren't hooded monks sacrificing goats and pigeons to appease God and atone for sins. Just a bunch of kids in jeans and puca shells singing "Kumbaya". Not exactly "Giant Steps" but the guy leading the songs was playing an actual Gibson 175. Not a fake like mine. Pretty cool.

There was a speaker that probably spoke about Jesus or something. I don't recall. The Gibson was sitting in a stand on stage the whole time. And there my focus lie. The recent college grad got up to lead one more song at the end of the meeting. Probably "Pass It On." (Not a reefer sharing reference mind you.) 

Afterwards I went up to the song-leader and asked if I could play his guitar. He probably didn't recall signing up for pimple faced punks playing his sweet guitar when he got into ministry but he relented. His worst fears were assuaged I'm sure when he saw how gingerly I handled his guitar. Like it was a Fabergé Egg. Then I played some Charlie Parker line or Wes Montgomery lick and he knew the guitar was in better hands. (His admission not mine.)

I guess I became a special ministry project of Paul's. He wanted to meet me after school and take me to McDonald's. This was long before Jeffrey Dahmer. But I was still a little weirded out and pretended to forget he was picking me up and caught the bus home instead. This happened twice before Paul successfully corralled me into a meal with an evangelistic message as dessert. Mmmm.

While sitting in a booth at the Nora McDonald's Paul told me about a God who was bigger than infinity, held the universe in His hand and started the clock and someday was going to stop the clock. Not sure if it was the smell of burning cow flesh or the truth he told me but it made sense. Somewhere between the fries and shake I gave my life to Jesus.

Flash forward 35 years. Paul is still on staff with Campus Crusade with kids in college, a home that needed repairs and ministry salary he called me and asked if I would be interested in buying (for a fair price) the guitar that his father gave his mother in the sixties. I gave him a more than a fair price because I wanted to keep the guitar in "the family". Besides it's the guitar that saved my life. In the picture above, my first electric (the Ibanez) and the Guitar That Saved My Life (the Gibson). The actual guitar. Thanks Paul.

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