Three years ago this week, something extraordinary happened at the L’Enfant Plaza Subway Station in Washington, D.C.. It was a frosty 43 degrees as thousands of early morning commuters hustled through the metro station. A man, wearing a non-descript, black long sleeve shirt and baseball cap, stopped along a gray granite wall, pulled a violin from its protective case, and then started to play.
In spite of the near freezing temperatures, the musician’s nimble fingers danced across the strings as he played six classic pieces by Bach. About three minutes into this impromptu concert, a middle aged man slowed for a moment to listen before moving on. A woman passing by tossed a dollar into his violin case, but didn’t hang around to listen.
For the better part of 45 minutes, his playing went largely unnoticed. The exception was a three-year-old boy who seemed captivated by the performance–that is, until his mother forced him to move on. Granted, it was rush hour. There were places to go and people to meet. And yet, it’s not every day when a world-class virtuoso is the one doing the serenading.
The violinist was Joshua Bell.
Several nights before this subway appearance, Bell had performed to a sold out audience in Boston’s Symphony Hall. That evening the best seats sold for $100 a piece; this particular morning he collected less than $33, contributed by 27 harried travelers.
And while Bell enchanted some 2,600 concertgoers in Boston, just 7 stopped for any length of time to listen at the L’Enfant Plaza Station.
Few violinists are as accomplished as Joshua Bell, who performs several hundred international concerts every year. Did I mention the 1713 Stradivarius violin Bell was playing in the subway? Some reports indicate he paid upwards of $3.5 million for the exceptional instrument.
I don’t know about you, but this story convicts me. How many times have I zipped past the remarkable, even the extraordinary, in order to stay on schedule? How often have I allowed my “to do” list to dictate my focus?
This is one of those stories which reminds me to slow down, to stop, to linger, and to listen—really listen—to the magical stuff of life wherever it may be found. That might be marveling at the sunrise or sunset . . . lingering over a meal with your mate, appreciating the gift that he or she is in your life . . . or entering into the joy of discovery when your son pulls a frog from his pocket.
Yes, carpe diem—to the glory of God.