n an April 2007 Washington Post
article,* staff writer Gene Weingarten described a scene inside a busy metro station where a “youngish” man clad in jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap stood next to a trash basket. An open violin case lay before him, a few dollars and some coins visible inside.
It was a few minutes before 8:00 on an early January morning in Washington, D.C., the middle of rush hour, when the man put bow to strings—and the music that flowed from the violin he held so expertly could be described as rapturous.
More than 1,000 people passed by the violinist within the 43 minutes he performed six classical pieces. Few stopped to listen. Only later did they learn they had rushed by Joshua Bell, lauded as one of the world’s finest classical musicians, playing musical masterpieces on a violin reportedly valued at about $3.5 million.
“I didn’t think nothing of it,” one man told the Washington Post. “Just a guy trying to make a couple of bucks.” He added that he “would have given him [a dollar or two] . . . but he spent all his cash on lotto,” Weingarten reported.
Set up by the Post as “an experiment in context, perception, and priorities,” staffers purposed to discover whether “in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” The answer, in a nutshell, was no.
employees prepared for any scenario: flocking bystanders, flashing cameras, pedestrian traffic backups. But in the end, only one person recognized Bell.
“It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” she said. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking.”
During the time Bell played, states the article, only seven people stopped to listen—leaving 1,070 who hurried by.
An interesting exception was the children, who instinctively seemed to recognize the genius of a man “whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.” Weingarten reported that “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.”
Weingarten summed up the crux of the experiment when she wrote, “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?”
Indeed, what else?
Had I been hurrying by that morning, late for a work appointment, would I have been so captivated by the spiritually and emotionally powerful music produced by this master’s hands that I would have stopped—captivated—to listen? Or would I have barely noticed, given Bell a quick glance, and looking at my watch scurried on?
The honest answer? I too may have chosen punctuality over Bell’s performance.
That raises the question, On what other occasions have I been in too much of a hurry to notice a beautiful landscape, an uplifting bird’s song, a gorgeous sunset—all the handiwork of the Master Designer? How many times have I been too busy to listen with full attention to someone sharing a problem, to notice the person standing outside of the group looking uncomfortable, or the church member who hasn’t shown up in a few weeks for services on Sabbath?
Experiences missed; opportunities not to be recaptured. Is being busy a good enough excuse?
In Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, two “religious” people seemed too busy—among other reasons—to stop and help the wounded victim on the side of the path. Somehow I don’t think likely pleas of needing to take care of “important” church duties will hold much weight with Jesus. And our similar excuses probably won’t either.
“Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Phil. 4:8), whatever or whoever needs our attention or help, let’s not be too busy to think about and notice these things.
After all, it could be Jesus—or His masterpieces—we are hastening by.
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.