I used to play the guitar.
Never well, but I used to play.
I did it because I had to—as mentioned in a previous post, I led mission trips with YouthWorks for a summer. During the application process, I ticked a box that said “I know a few chords.” My fate was sealed.
Now that I don’t have to, I don’t.
I only learned praise songs during my time as a guitar player, and my catalog was extremely limited. But every once in a while, we’ll sing one of “my songs” in church, and I’ll feel for the calluses that no longer line the fingers on my left hand.
They say songs take you back, and I am no stranger to nostalgia at the hands of a tune from yesteryear.
Any time I hear the beautiful harmonies of *NSYNC, I recall hours spent with my sister in our bedroom, “cleaning” with the boom box blaring. I remember being about seven years old, hearing “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time On You” for the first time and crying because I couldn’t believe that Justin and the gang would take the Lord’s name in vain like that.
Whenever “Crocodile Rock” comes on the radio, I am nine years old with a vice grip on the karaoke microphone. My best friend Chloe and I have been rehearsing for what seems like hours—our “performance” at Family Fun Night is tomorrow, and we have to nail every note. Or, you know, just know all of the words. Keeping up with the little blue line on the screen is a hard task when you only have a learner’s permit in reading. “I never knew me a better time and I guess I never will”—oh Sir Elton, how did you know?
If ever I hear any song that sounds like it came from a Jock Jams compilation, I think of my many childhood evenings spent in the gym, watching my dad coach game after game, never getting sick of pizza and candy for dinner. I think of being in high school when I finally got my chance to move from the bleachers to the court. I think about how I haven’t been to a high school basketball game since. A personal favorite was always “Pump Up the Jam,” if only for the line “get your booty on the floor tonight, make my day,” because how can you make someone’s day if it’s already night?! Silly Technotronic.
Once in a while if my iTunes is on shuffle, I’ll hear again the opening “heyyyy, how you doin, how you doin,” and it’s all I can do to keep from dancing, the way we used to night after night freshman year at Calvin on second Veenstra. We watched the music video like there was no (midterm) tomorrow, memorizing the motions we still know by heart. Going into college, we all had the same worry: will I make friends?
We would, we did, and this is our song.
But the feeling I get at church when they play my songs is different from these pure pangs of nostalgia. They aren’t just songs I used to hear; these are songs I used to play. Me. With an instrument. Leading other people. In worship. Through the playing of this song. I used to do that. It was part of my identity: I was the guitar player. It stressed me out 99.2 percent of the time, but it fit in well with the rest of my generally stressed-out self, and the other 0.8 percent of the time, it sure was fun. Now I watch someone else standing in the front, in that role, in my role.
The songs themselves have a way of making the past feel present again, and I can’t help but look back, wistful and wanting. That’s part of the reason I stopped playing—all of the songs I knew carried with them too much weight of what was no longer.
But maybe it’s also a reason to start again, to learn new songs on an old instrument. Keeping a foot in a past life while moving slowly into new territory, new chord progressions, new associations.
So maybe, just maybe, it’s time to work on those calluses. The next time I hear one of my songs, I’ll be ready.
Catherine Kramer (’14) has a degree in English and works in publishing. Her continued existence is made possible by grace, warm hugs, and iced chai lattes.