Many years ago a friend called me to ask if I could help him out on the harmonica. I asked how long had he been playing and he said 15 years. That seemed like long enough so I agreed to work with him.
He came to my home and I asked, "So what is it you want to work on?"
He sheepishly replied, "I’m stuck. I have some decent chops but I don’t seem to be getting any better."
I thought about his reply at the time and I’ve thought about it almost every day since. After a moment of thoughtful deliberation I told him that I thought everyone was "stuck." "Eric Clapton’s stuck. Stevie Ray Vaughan is stuck. Charlie Musselwhite and Kim Wilson are stuck. These guys just happen to be stuck in a pretty good place."
After a little thought I realized that I, too, was stuck. I just happened to be a slightly better stuck place than he was. I was able to show my friend a couple of new licks that he was able to do and sent him on his way.
I tried to explain that the way I learned to play harmonica was probably different than the way others have learned. I was self-taught; which means I didn’t have a great teacher. I had my first lesson after I had been playing for 35 years. I told my friend that my harmonica playing came in plateaus. I would get to certain place and it would seem as though I would stay there forever. There were many, many times when I thought that I had gone as far as I could possibly go, when suddenly, from one moment to the next something would happen. I would hear a technique that I had not heard before and would try as hard as I could to emulate it. It took a lot of time before the moment finally arrived and I got it; or got something close enough to it that I felt comfortable playing it.
I look back and realize that it was like being stranded on an island with a book full of Spanish words and trying to teach yourself how to speak Spanish. The best thing about knowing you’re stuck is that it provides you with the opportunity to get unstuck. The snag seems to be that most folks have no idea that 1. ) They are stuck; and 2. ) they have no idea how to get unstuck.
Take Rep. Eric Cantor. Here was a guy who was stuck in a pretty good place as Majority Leader of Congress and next in line to Speaker of the House. He had worked overtime to recruit Tea Party candidates presumably in hopes that he would end up with enough votes to oust his friend, Rep. John Boehner, for Speaker.
Rep. Cantor was riding high and stuck in a very good place. He was on the steakhouse tour. He led the delegation to the Davos conference in Switzerland enjoying the benefits of taxpayer funded adventures. He traveled around the country schmoozing his way through life not having a clue he was stuck badly.
It most likely would have never dawned on him to seek a little help to get him unstuck. Why bother? Rep. Cantor was in nearly a perfect place. Perfect hair. Perfect teeth. Perfect friends. Nothing but four aces in every hand dealt to him. Why would he even think he was stuck?
Because we’re all stuck right where we are; be it in a bad place, a good place or a really good place. The only thing that separates one person from another is that one person may understand that they are stuck, while the other never gives the idea any thought at all.
The person who understands that they are stuck is the lucky one. They know their circumstances and with a little luck, and maybe a little help, they might be able to move from one stuck place to another; and to another.
Last week Rep. Cantor got a chance to witness the reality of where he had been stuck for quite some time. Oh sure, Fox News and other conservative talking heads immediately came out firing saying that it was the immigration issue that cost Cantor his primary. Fox News, an entertainment program, was wrong. Only about 22 percent of the voters cared about immigration. However, over 70 percent said that he had lost touch with his constituents.
Oh yes, Rep. Cantor, soon to be Mr. Cantor, had his world crash big time. He says he has no regrets and that’s probably true. He’ll land a big paying job, make millions of dollars and never look back at those ingrates who tossed him out of his political career. He’ll be fine.
Or will he? If it’s all about money he probably will be fine. But if he had ever really cared about what his job was and where he was going all he had to do was to talk to people back home. Had he known he was stuck it might have made all the difference.
Bob Stannard is a Banner columnist.