“As an experiment,
The Washington Post
asked a concert violinist—
wearing jeans, tennis shoes,
and a baseball cap—
to stand near a trash can
at rush hour in the subway
and play Bach
on a Stradivarius.
Partita No. 2 in D Minor
called out to commuters
like an ocean to waves,
sang to the station
about why we should bother
to live…..” excerpt from “Bach in the DC Subway” by David Lee Garrison
On a cold January morning in the L’Enfant Plaza Station of the subway line in Washington, D.C. one of the worlds best violinist, Joshua Bell, played for 45 minutes on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. It was a social experiment to see whether or not people would stop to appreciate beauty.
Over a thousand people passed him by as he played some of the most intricate pieces ever written for violin. Just that week he had performed at a theater in Boston, which sold out even though tickets were selling at $100 a seat. So how many people stopped to appreciate this free concert? Only seven.
Among the seven that stopped to receive the beautiful self-gift of his heart being poured out through his violin was a 3-year-old little boy. The boy tried to stop and take in what I can only describe as achingly beautiful music, when his mother can be seen on the YouTube video pushing him along, forcing him to move for what I must assume was a very important play date. Most of the children that walked by kept their face towards him, listening to the sweet sounds of the strings even though they were being marched away in the opposite direction.
Jesus says we must be like little children to enter into the Kingdom of God. I am not sure he was talking about the children of the 21st century. The children of the 21st century are quite different than those of even 20 years ago. Today those children are either on their phones, iPod’s or gaming device and on their way to select soccer, baseball, gymnastics, football, hockey or the like. Some how an appreciation for what is beautiful is being lost or perhaps replaced with “more important” things. However, as human beings I believe what sets us apart as unique and unrepeatable persons made in the image and likeness of God is that we create as well as take in beauty.
The Sistine Chapel, Mozart’s Requiem Mass, the Eiffel Tower are all examples of beautiful things man has created. Beautiful things elevate our minds and cause us to transcend this world to contemplate the divine. Beauty will save the world or at least that is what Dostoevsky has famously declared.
This social experiment done in Washington D. C. reminds me of the time I left the Theology of the Body Institute with a busload of other attendees and was dropped at the airport. After getting through security I began to look above my head to see which direction to go for my gate.
Several of my class attendees were with me and had gravitated to an interactive light puzzle projected onto the wall. It was at least six feet tall and at least 10 or 12 feet long. I watched as they moved the pieces by touching them and sliding them around. They laughed and giggled and played with this beautiful wall mural.
The truth is that I would not had even noticed it if I had been on my own. Was it because they were in there 20’s and I was in my 40’s that I had not even thought to try it? I went over to the puzzle and took my turn moving the pieces around. The entire time all I could think was “Why don’t I stop and look around more? What else am I missing?”
I made a decision right then to pursue what is beautiful. When it snows I tilt my head back and watch the flakes cascade down to my face. I pulled over on the side of the road and watch the sun setting. I get out of my car and take my shoes off and walk through fields with thick lush grass and I even lay down on a beach at night to behold the stars. I make time for beauty.
Do you have time for beauty? You and I are called to pursue what is beautiful, true and good, but are we? Perhaps the question we have to ask ourselves is that if we do not have time to stop and listen to a world class musician playing the most intricately written music on the best instrument ever made then maybe we need to re-prioritize our pursuits.