As a young boy, Tony Iommi fell in love with playing the guitar. Born in Birmingham, England – home of Peaky Blinders – the only jobs were industrial. So, at age 17, he accepted a job in a sheet metal factory. The soul-sucking job ignited a depression even his beloved guitar playing couldn’t alleviate and he quickly put in his notice.
On his last day of work, he was asked to man the press instead of his normal welding machine. Unfamiliar with the guillotine-like press, he accidentally pushed when he should have pulled, and the machine came down on the tips of his fingers. He instinctively pulled back, drawing all the flesh and fingernails off the bones of his right hand. Since he was a left-handed guitarist, this was devastating.
At the hospital, the doctors sawed off the protruding bones and told the shocked young man that he would never play guitar again. Undeterred, Tony melted down a liquid soap bottle and shaped thimble-like prosthetics for his missing fingers to prove them wrong.
He encountered many problems. Playing was incredibly painful, so he fretted, laying his fingers down across several strings simultaneously instead of playing single note solos. The thimbles prevented him from feeling the strings, causing him to use his pinkie more and also to press down too hard, creating a “heavy, discordant” sound. He switched to light-gauge strings, but kept playing in a way that accommodated his injuries.
He contacted a mate from school named Ozzy Osbourne and together they formed Black Sabbath. Tony is now known as “the man who invented heavy metal guitar” and is #15 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Guitarists of All Time list.
All because his love was larger than his loss.
Easier said than done, when life hands you seemingly insurmountable odds. I would love to think that I would continue to play guitar if I lost my fingers, but I’m not so sure. Where does that sort of strength of heart come from?
Tommy’s love was not romantic love – that giddy, passion-filled love Aristotle called eros – but a more enduring love – what the Greeks called pragma. We waste our energy chasing the giddy rush of eros but spend too little time trying to maintain it. Then, when we encounter the first little roadblock on our love journey, we throw in the towel because it just isn’t fun anymore. If eros is falling in love, then pragma is standing in love. I think of pragma as love with traction. It has passion, but also practicality, patience, and effort. It is undeterred by hardship. It’s a love larger than loss, a love that sustains.
Living a life of enduring love requires an optimistic worldview, a growth mindset, a belief that even the most tragic situations offer opportunities for learning and personal growth. And this sort of thinking can be cultivated. We are all promised change, loss, and suffering. We can build a character that sees change as an opportunity to learn and grow. We don’t have control over the circumstances and events that will take place in our lives, but we control the attitude with which we respond to those circumstances and events. Pragma requires sacrifice, compromise, patience, and awareness.
As we begin a new decade, it’s worth asking ourselves what people, beliefs, and experiences truly make life worth living. Looking forward, in what area of your life should love be larger than loss?
Let my life be a love song with such a sick guitar solo that I am undeterred by the loss of my fingers.