Every now and then I emerge from the fog of loss that seems to continuously waft over this blog and remember that one of my goals for it is to, on the rare occasion that I can think of something worth passing along, offer some of what I have learned from my so-treasured experience as a mother. For once, I’m on the case.
The other day, I heard Joshua Bell interviewed on my radio station. In case you don’t know, as I didn’t before the interview happened upon me, Joshua Bell is a really famous, world famous, so-famous-he-just-won-a-prize-that-they-haven’t-given-out-for-three-years-because-no-one-was-worthy-enough-famous violinist. He plays a violin so exceedingly fancy that it has a name – the Gibson ex Huberman. It was made by Antonio Stradivarius in 1713 and cost Joshua Bell somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 million dollars.
One morning last January, Joshua Bell took a cab to a Washington, D.C. Metro Station just three blocks from his hotel (ah, the sacrifices one makes for a violin with a name and the original varnish from 1713). Anyway, Bell dressed down for the occasion in jeans, T-shirt and a baseball cap. Once inside L’Enfant plaza, he took out the Gibson ex-Huberman, lay the case at his feet, threw some coins into the case and began playing Bach’s “Chaconne,” a piece of music so fiendishly and gloriously complex that some musicians spend a lifetime playing it.
After the 14 or so minutes it took Bell to play “Chaconne”, he moved on to Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, Manuel Ponce’s “Estrellita”, then a piece by Jules Massenet and then a Bach gavotte. All in all, he played for 43 minutes and in that time, 1,097 people passed by as he played. Guess how many stopped to listen?
Got a number in mind?
If it was seven, you should get a prize. Too bad I don’t have any handy.
A grand total of seven, count ‘em, seven people stopped during rush hour to listen to one of the best musicians in the world play some of the most renowned music ever written.
Twenty-seven people did give money, but most of them kept walking.
That left 1070 people to walk by, completely oblivious to the unexpected, outrageously out-of-context beauty that was filling L’Enfant Plaza that morning.
If you haven’t fallen out of your chair in amazement and sorrow at the bald statement this story makes about our society’s relationship to accidental beauty, you may well be wondering what the big deal is and while you’re at it, when am I going to deliver on my aforementioned promise of mothering wisdom? Oh, fine. Be that way.
Gene Weingarten, who dreamed up this experiment, wrote an excellent and comprehensive piece about it in the Washington Post Magazine (Go see! It has audio and video too!) Here is the paragraph that really struck home with me:
“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. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. 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.”
Every child tried to stop. Every parent refused to stop.
So here’s where I finally get around to my take-home message:
The chances are good that your child is more available to beauty than you are. The chances are also good that, while you were once a child to whom beauty called, you have probably morphed by now into some version of the 1070 drones who passed by Joshua Bell without missing a single, well, beat.
Here is my suggestion. Ask yourself if that is what you really want. For yourself and your child?
I know I don’t.
Don’t get me wrong. I am sure I have, a thousand thousand times over, allowed errands, requirements, anxiety about the future, phone calls, schedules and frenzy to propel me past some piece of accidental beauty that my child, neck craned, wanted to stop and soak in.
But over and over, your child will be grabbed by life. He will notice the fiery feathers of a parrott on a man’s shoulder at the farmer’s market. She will, with a stunned and silent, “Oh”, notice a waterfall through the dappled woods. Over and over, your child’s forward movement through the day will be halted by the minute as well as the grand gestures of life.
Let your child be stopped in his or her tracks.
And while you’re at it, let your child stop you in yours.