I recently came across the Washington Post story of Joshua Bell, a world class violinist who agrees to work in cahoots with the Post for a story. He positions himself as an anonymous sort of starving artist in a Washington DC subway playing for tips during morning rush hour — that is, a starving artist playing for tips with a $3 million Stradivari. As he plays his glorious music, for which he earns millions, for which he has played for kings and queens, he is largely ignored.
The story is not new, it came out in 2007, but I didn’t see it then because at that time I had a just turned four-year-old and I was as likely to have time to read the newspaper as I was to take trapeze lessons.
Nonetheless, I came across the story on Facebook, and as you might expect, there were hundreds of comments about how awful people are because here they were in the presence musical genius and they neither recognized it nor would they take time to stop and smell the musical roses.
I, however, did not think the story was about how awful people are for not recognizing Joshua Bell or stopping to enjoy awesome violin music. Until I read this story I had not heard of Joshua Bell and I only somewhat enjoy violin music. Paint my collar blue.
That people don’t recognize a celebrity out of context is not surprising, especially a non-Hollywood celebrity. That the majority of people don’t recognize a famous classical musician is not surprising as the majority of people who can afford seats at the symphony are not the majority of the subway-riding working stiffs. That people won’t stop and close their eyes and sway and appreciate musical beauty as they are late to work is not surprising either, because if they get fired, how are they ever going to afford symphony tickets?
Recognition of celebrity or beauty out of context may have been the intended story, but I thought the real story was about how everyone you pass has a story — a tragic beautiful amazing heroic unique thrilling and wonderful story, co-written with a mighty creator.
Everyone you pass has a story that is out of context. The mom I often pass on the way to school, who wears yoga pants and drives the Mercedes, who never makes eye contact or speaks to me, who makes me feel like she thinks she is better than me — she has a story. And if I knew her story, it might provide some context. It might change my perspective. I might view her differently.
The mom who is 30-pounds overweight. The mom who is always pulled together and volunteers for everything. The mom who is a little too loud. The mom who lets her kid wear shorts to school in January. The mom who….
Everyone has a story, which in the subway station of life, is out of context. And no, I’m not suggesting that we stop and take in the story of everyone we pass, because then we would never have time for those trapeze lessons. But we can try to remember that everyone we pass has a story and that if we knew it, we would have the context to recognize the celebrity and beauty in them that God sees.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1Samuel 16:7