Use It Or Lose It

Antonio Stradivari was the master musical craftsman of the late Renaissance. Over his long life of nine decades he produced more than a thousand stringed instruments – everything from harps to guitars. Of course, Stradivarius (the popular spelling of his name) is best known for his legendary violins.

I am a musician myself, but I can’t play a violin. Those who are skilled with the violin, however, say that a Stradivarius sounds and feels like nothing else. Akin to the handling of high-performance sports car, it is responsive, powerful, and a wonderment to play. To “sit behind the wheel” of a Stradivarius and “drive” must be intoxicating. To actually own one of these instruments, to have one of these masterpieces “in the garage,” must be truly exhilarating – and expensive. 

With only 500 surviving Stradivarius violins in the world, the price of possessing one exceeds $1 million. In fact, a seven-figure price tag might be considered a bargain, as the most expensive instruments to ever sell have all been Stradivarius originals. Just a few years ago, “The Lady Blunt” Stradivarius – built in 1721 – fetched a price of more than $12 million from an anonymous buyer. 

For my money (figuratively!), the most interesting of Stradivarius’ instruments is a violin called, “The Messiah,” conserved at Oxford in England. “The Messiah” was in Stradivarius’ workshop when he died, and remains in the same pristine condition today as when it was first constructed more than three centuries ago. 

Largely, this is because subsequent owners didn’t treat the violin as an instrument. They preserved it as a work of art. When it was eventually bequeathed to Oxford, it was with the strict provision that it never be played. Never. Therefore, “The Messiah” – which might be the most priceless and perfect creation from Antonio Stradivarius’ hand – sits inside a glass case untouched and unplayed.

If someone could get their hands on “The Messiah,” the playing experience would probably be disappointing. Stringed instruments must be played in order to “stay in shape,” and the more one is played, the better it will sound over time. Thus, to preserve an instrument rather than to play an instrument – even one so revered as “The Messiah” – is to ultimately destroy it.

This is a parable, a message that you must “use it or lose it.” The “it” is the life you have been given to live. You can’t always play it safe. You can’t go about your days suspicious and guarded, your heart under constant lockdown. It’s impossible to keep yourself protected and unmarked, if life is want you really wish to live. 

So, break the glass of your self-imprisonment. Stretch the strings. Rosin the bow. Yes, you’ll get banged up, dented, and have some of your veneer chipped away. But this is proof that you are actually living, that you are actually making music with your life. To not make such music is to cheat the world – and yourself – of all the Creator meant you to be.

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