Missing Out at Rush Hour

morning commute

In early 2007, the Washington Post conducted a little experiment in collaboration with virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. They wanted to see how ordinary people would respond to one of the world’s finest classical musicians when encountering his artistry unexpectedly during the morning rush hour. Would exquisite beauty give people pause during the busy-ness of life?

On Friday, January 12th, 2007 at 7:51am, Bell donned street clothes, went to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington DC, took out his Stradivarius, and put some seed money in the open case. He then commenced to deliver a 47-minute concert of six glorious pieces for solo violin.

Three days before appearing at the Metro Station, Bell filled Boston’s Symphony Hall with patrons shelling out $100 each on average to hear him play. Two weeks later, standing room only crowds in North Bethesda, MD were so enraptured by his artistry that they dare not cough for fear of disrupting the experience. But on that Friday, Bell presented himself as just another street musician trying to make a buck.

So, how did he do?

Of nearly 1,100 people who passed him by on their way to work, only seven stopped to listen for a minute or more. A mere 27 people opted to give him money. His total haul: $32.17.

Despite my great love for classical music, I would have counted myself among the throngs of humanity in a great big hurry to get on with my commute and the day ahead. I doubt that I would even have stopped to toss a coin in the case. If I’d opened myself to the music at all, I’d likely have considered myself lucky to have pursued a career in business instead of the performing arts. After all, if a guy that good had to make his living in a subway station, what chance would I have had?!

While that story was brought to my attention several weeks ago, I still find myself in a great big hurry to get somewhere. My penchant for getting things done and checking items off my “to do” leaves me with a kind of tunnel vision that prevents me from taking in the small wonders of life.

As a case in point, my husband and I reside in a townhouse for which we have no yard for the dog. His calls of nature launch a negotiation between us as to who’ll suit up and take him out. When it’s my turn, I generally try to get through it as quickly as possible. My “hurry up” attitude generally flies in the face of an excitable Scottie who’s all about enjoying the moment and exploring the sights and smells of the neighborhood.

A snowpocalypse arrived in the Portland Metro Area last weekend, plunging temperatures into the teens and far lower with wind chill. On the blustery walks, I had an understandable desire to get back in the house as quickly as possible. Even my dog got on board with that! But during the final walk Saturday night, I had a transcendent moment. The snow-covered streets and sidewalks reflected the light from the street lamps, making the whole area glow. No one else was out and about; no cars were on the move. The opening lines of Silent Night filled my head: “Silent Night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.” That ordinary moment was peaceful and joyful and breathtaking.

I doubt that single moment will break me of the habit of rushing when life does not demand it of me. But I will make every effort going forward to slow down and take in my surroundings… perhaps even pause to listen to the birds sing and catch a whiff of the clean, fresh air.