This morning I opened my e-mail inbox and found — in a forward from my Aunt in Jacksonville, Fla. — a link to an April 8, 2007 Washington Post article by Gene Weingarten, Pearls Before Breakfast.
Most often I’ll click on a link embedded in an e-mail, if I know the sender. However, it’s rare that I will completely read an article that clocks in at 7,420 words. At best, I’ll choose to skim the paragraphs before closing the browser window and getting back to work.
Not this morning.
Weingarten’s article directly addressed a phenomenon of modern life that I find both fascinating and completely terrifying:
“If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?”
The Washington Post staged a… well, a stunt — where acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell and his 3.5 million dollar Stradivari violin would stand by the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza station, dressed in plainclothes and play unannounced during the morning work rush.
The results were unnerving. In 43 minutes, only one person recognized Bell and seven others stopped for longer than a minute to listen to his impromptu concert. 1,070 people with straightjacket-forward purpose hurried past without so much as a glance in his direction, although 27 (most on the run) gave money towards the performance. Bell, who can make $1,000 a minute on his talent, walked away from L’Enfant Plaza with just $32.17.
The Hopi have a word — koyaanisqatsi — that means “life out of balance.”
For what else could we who have no time to listen to brilliance, to mastery, to MUSIC be, but out of balance? Are we so driven, so focused on ourselves and our own agenda that we can’t spare a moment in a day for art? For amazement? For an unexpected joy?
The one startling discovery from this event (which was videotaped) was that every child who walked by craned his/her neck around to listen to the music. It was their parents, rushing to get the children off to daycare or doctors appointments, that moved to block their children from appreciating the master violinist who put his heart and strings into playing some of the most difficult and challenging pieces of music known… The parents did not care to discover what or ask why their child chose to hesitate — instead the children were chastised for wanting to delay.
Weingarten notes, “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.”
The thought makes me inescapably sad, and yet it also sets within my heart a resolution to not live a life of koyaanisqatsi.
Thus I hereby resolve to be aware, to be open to unexpected joy, to embrace the poetry found around the corner — for I want music and art, beauty and wonder in my life.
I resolve to be awake to these things, even if it means I am late for work — for I refuse to be absent to life.