True story. It is a cold wintery morning and a man with a violin standing in the Washington DC Metro Station plays six pieces written by Bach. This takes 45 minutes. Four minutes after he begins playing, he receives his first dollar from a woman who throws the money into his hat and continues to walk. For the next six minutes a young man stops briefly to listen, along with several children who try to stop, but are forced to move on quickly by their parents. For 45 minutes this musician plays continuously. Twenty gave money, but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32. When he finished playing – no one noticed. Silence simply took over.
The violinist playing that morning was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. The average cost of a ticket to see him in concert is $100. That morning in the Metro Station, he played one of the most intricate pieces of music ever written on a violin valued at $3.5 million dollars.
Joshua Bell played in the Metro Station as part of a social experiment about perception and people’s priorities. The questions raised from this experiment were these: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize something or someone as a gift when it or they are offered in an unexpected context?
We have entered a Holiday season that can easily throw all of us into a faster pace and a higher level of stress. I am wondering if we intentionally chose to slow down – if we made personal choices around our priorities – if we simply made the effort to pay attention to what’s around us – what precious gifts might each one of us find?
With that thought in mind – Merry Christmas.