“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realised it sooner.” Colette - a controversial French writer who assisted her Jewish friends, including her husband, during the German occupation of France in World War II.
It is 7:51 am on January 12th, your morning is well on its way as the clock rolls on another minute. Today you are working a job you have had for the past 3 years; you are a Project Manager - US Government - Washington DC.
You take the Metro like always. You hope for an empty carriage, today you get one half-full, the air is alive with snatches of music that sneak out of other people’s head phones. Doors open and shut, a mother helps a toddler with wide eyes onto the train. You are already running through your to-do list.
Here’s your stop, L’Enfant Plaza. You’re at the door; ready for the moment you can bolt out and beat the crowds to the escalator.
You don’t know it, but the non-descript fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro is Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated and accomplished classical musicians in the world. He is playing some of the most graceful masterpieces ever written, on one of the most valuable violins ever made. A violin handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari.
Bell plays like his life depends on it, sending Heaven-sent music soaring above the morning hum, and the tiny melodies sneaking out of other people’s headphones. Interview Magazine has said of Joshua Bell:
"He does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.”
In the almost hour that Joshua Bell plays, seven people stop what they are doing and listen, at least for a minute. 27 people, mainly on the run, give a total of $32 and some change. According to The Washington Post, who arranged Bell’s rush hour performance, that leaves 1,070 people who hurried by, most only three feet away. Few even turning to look.
It is worth noting that every single time a child walks past, he or she tries to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent steers the kid away.
Do We Have Time For Beauty?
Here’s what The Washington Post wanted to find out: Do we have time for beauty? Are we able to spot beauty in unlikely places? Are we so programmed to do what we have to, that we miss the very thing that could make our day dance instead of stumble?
John David Mortensen is a Project Manager for an international program at the Department of Energy; today he has to participate in a monthly budget review. But Mortensen is drawn to the violinist. He checks the time -- he's three minutes early for work – so he settles against a wall to listen. Mortensen doesn't know much about classical music or world famous violinists:
"Whatever it was," he says, "it made me feel at peace."
It still amazes me how little kids will stop what they are doing just to look at a butterfly on a flower. Or in this case how they can spot an internationally acclaimed virtuoso playing on a $3.5 million violin quicker than most adults.
Life can be full on, demanding and loud. Are we able to spot beauty in unlikely places? Are we so programmed to do what we have to, that we miss the very thing that could make our day dance instead of stumble?
Whatever you do today, don’t stop listening for the music. Don’t stop believing.
Don’t stop the dance.