Appreciate Beauty Near Us. Children seeing beauty. Violinist Joshua Bell playing secretly in the Washington D.C. Subway (May 2007)

Susan's Thursday morning note May 31, 2007 
Joshua Bell, Violinist, Playing in the subways of Washington D.C.
Beautiful music unnoticed.  Children seeing the details.

Good morning!  I’ve had my coffee and ready to try to think and let my fingers begin their clicking.   Yesterday we went to the Children’s Zoo in Lincoln.  It always amazes me that when we’re at the zoo Camden is as fascinated by a dead worm on the sidewalk and a gopher by the lunch tables as he is with the huge animals.  Last week a friend gave me a note about an experiment done in Washington, D.C.  that was fascinating to me.  The Washington Post invited a world-renowned classical violinist, Joshua Bell, to play his Stradivarius violin that was handmade in 1713 and valued at $3.5 million to play at the Washington, D.C.  metro subway station.  The question that the Post wanted to explore was, …“In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”  Bell then dressed like an average street performer, stood near a trash can during a Friday morning rush hour in January 2007 and played several classical pieces on his Stradivarius as commuters came up the escalators on their way to work.  Here were the results: In the 43 minutes that Bell played, 1,097 people went by.  Only seven people stopped to listen for at least a minute.  Twenty-seven people dropped money in his case, mostly without stopping or looking at him, for a total of $32.17.  What was the most fascinating result to me was the following from the Post article…

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding.  But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent.  EVERY single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch.  And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away…  The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter.  Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us.  It may be true with music, too…  It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the known about the tree in the forest.  Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty?  Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?…

Goodness, the article is so long and fascinating I just don’t know how to even summarize it for you!  Here is the link that will take you directly to the Washington Post article on this story.  You can listen and/or view the actual footage.  The article gives much to ponder on what we have become as people, as a society.  What is beauty?  Are we taking the time to observe the details (like the dead worm at the zoo that is beautiful to a 6 year old!) That’s why I love to type to you – “Don’t forget to listen to the birds.”  – We get so caught up in our whirlwinds that the little gifts from God that are right at our fingertips are the easiest to overlook!  .

One other encouragement that I thought of for you last night was also from my time at the zoo.  How the little detail of holding Camden’s little hand was one of my greatest delights.  There are many verses of this analogy with God and us.  Is that the intimacy that he feels with us when we reach for him?  Another detail that seems so small at the time, but is the utmost for intimacy?  Psalm 37:24.  Though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.  Psalm 63:8.  Your right hand upholds me.  Isaiah 41:10. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:13. For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. 

I hope you have a chance to go to the Washington Post site above and to know that the smallest detail – your hand – is held by our God!  I hope you have a chance to come by the store, just for a place to get away from your rush.   “The years glide by…”  Let all continue to try to find little details that can bring us small joys, for then we are truly alive.  Susan