Don’t Walk on By

What I love about winter is seeing all the tree branches covered with ice and white snow. The purity of the snow-laden back drop is a reminder of how beautiful the world can be. No matter how fast and busy life is, beauty lies all around, waiting for us to take notice. I then wonder how many times I’ve driven down the street, the highway and because of the busyness in my life, never see any of this beauty.

There are green benches located outside my son’s school entrance. Almost everyday when the kids were little, one of my kids would say, “Mom, can we sit on the bench for a few minutes?” Now, I know neither kid is really that tired. They have more energy than many kids I know! No, it’s just their way of saying, “Can we just slow down and relax?” In the beginning, I was reluctant to do this, knowing how much I had to do before dinner. It didn’t take me long, however, to realize that maybe they had a point. Maybe we should all take time from our busy day to rest and enjoy the beauty around us. Now whenever they ask to sit on the green bench, I say, “Yes, of course we can.” I recently heard a poignant story that clearly captured what I feel that we, as a society, so often do.

On a cold January morning, a man wearing jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap stood inside a metro station during rush hour in Washington DC and started playing his violin. For approximately 43 minutes, he stood and played six Bach pieces. It was estimated that, because of the rush hour, over a thousand people went through the station, probably most on their way to work. A few minutes went by into the first piece when a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace for a moment and even turned his head towards the violinist before hurrying on. Another minute and the musician received his first dollar tip by a woman as she quickly strode by, without missing a beat. A few more minutes and someone leaned against the wall to listen before heading on his way. This went on for nearly the duration of the “concert.”

In the 43 minutes the musician was playing, seven people stopped and listened. About 27 people gave him money, totaling $32. When the man finished playing, few even noticed. There was no applauding. There was no recognition. What all these people didn’t realize was that the man playing the violin was not just any man, but the legendary violinist Joshua Bell. What they also didn’t know was that this famed musician was playing one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a Stradivarius violin worth over $3.5 million (U.S.). Three days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a Boston theatre where the seats averaged $100. And finally what these people didn’t know is that this violinist has been estimated to make $1000/minute when he plays. In the end, only one woman recognized who he was.

This was all part of a social experiment organized by the Washington Post about perception and priorities in life. The stipulations were simple: In an ordinary, everyday environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we even stop to appreciate it? If we don’t have time to stop and listen to one of the world’s best classical musicians, how many other things in life are we missing? So, as you go on your week, think about which person you want to be – one of the few that stops to enjoy true beauty? Or one of the thousand who keeps walking?