Writers of personal finance like myself quite often get into a mode where everything we write and talk about is done with a forward facing outlook. We write with the idea of making things better either in the next couple of years or 20, 30 or 40 years down the road. It’s always done with a future reference, often while making sacrifices right now in order to make things better later.
One thing I think we often forget to do, however, is to make sure that we appreciate the here and now, and be thankful for the things we have right now. If we aren’t thankful and appreciative, we can often miss the amazing things that we already have right in front of our face.
The Anonymous Violinist
This past week a friend shared an amazing story they had seen on Facebook that clearly demonstrated just how easy it is to not appreciate the extraordinary when it’s right in front of us. We can easily take things for granted, especially when we’re not focused on living in the present. This short version of the story came from that Facebook post:
A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?
As a violin player myself I can appreciate even more than some just how amazing Joshua Bell’s playing is. He plays with emotion and grace, and some of the pieces he plays in that subway are extremely difficult, even for a professional to play. He gave a virtuoso performance, but hardly anyone noticed.
We Miss The Extraordinary Because Of The Context
I love this story because it speaks to just how easy it is to miss the extraordinary things in our lives. We miss the important things for unimportant reasons. We get focused on our career, but don’t take time to focus on our family and spend time with them. We focus on saving for retirement, but never focus on having fun or focusing on the ones we love now. We save for our future, but avoid giving to help others now.
Many of those people who passed right by the virtuoso violinist in the subway are probably the same folks who may have paid for an expensive ticket to hear him play at the symphony. They weren’t expecting to see him there in that context, and as such they didn’t appreciate his playing. By the same token, far too often because we’re going through hard times we don’t recognize all of the blessings that God has given us in the midst of our troubles. Because of the context we can’t appreciate.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:13
Appreciate And Be Thankful For The Here And Now
For me this story really stressed the importance of appreciating and being thankful for all of the extraordinary blessings that God has given me in the here and now, even in the midst of hard times. Focusing on and planning for the future is a good thing, but if it keeps you from seeing the wonderful and beautiful things around you right now, you will have lost.
For more a more detailed look at the story of the violinist in the subway (which won a Pulitzer prize for the writer at the Washington Post), click here. To see him play in another context, watch this video.
Here’s some video of the virtuoso violinist, Joshua Bell, playing his 3.5 million dollar violin in the subway that day for uninterested passerby:
What are your thoughts about this story? Tell us in the comments!
Last Edited: 27th February 2012