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|Stopping for Joshua Bell|
Stopping for Joshua Bell
by Mary Pipher
Last year Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist, was asked by Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post to play near an entrance to a Washington, D.C., subway station. His performance was videotaped so that the reactions of commuters could be studied. Bell selected what he considered the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. He stood for hours in a busy station playing one piece after another. Only a few people even noticed him, and at the end of the day, he had collected less than thirty dollars in tips.
Yet all the children who passed him wanted to watch and listen. On the video we can see them tugging on their parents' arms and turning their faces toward Bell even as they are being led away.
One woman did recognize Bell, and as thousands of fellow commuters rushed by, she listened in amazement to his entire performance. Mostly, though, his playing wafted past ears that, in a workday rush, had no room for music. Of course, no one was expecting him in a subway, and many people have no exposure to classical music. Still, they missed an opportunity for transcendence. Since I read about this experiment, it has become a metaphor for me. I have asked myself, "Do I want to rush past Joshua Bell?"
Long ago in Texas, on the fishing dock with my father, I became aware of the power of a moment. That night I realized that time can be conceptualized in different ways and that it can be stopped and expanded into something grander. The Greeks knew this with their distinction between chronological time, kronos, and sacred time, kairos. Just as with energy, time can be both a wave and a particle, something continuous and something discrete. My idea is that moments are discrete time, complete in themselves and utterly distinct from the habit-bound wave time in which we all live much of our lives. While minutes are earthbound and can be measured, moments both merge with eternal time and exist outside time altogether.
Not all minutes are created equal and only a few become moments. We tend to greet every minute with demands such as: "I want this. I don't want this. I want more of this. I want less of that." We have ideas about what our minutes should or should not be. We want sunshine or rain, quiet or company, work or rest. We are such yearning organisms.