My colleague Bill Brazell turned me on to this amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning piece from the Washington Post. It starts with a very simple premise — what would happen if a world-class violinist posed as a street musician in the D.C. Metro? — and manages to explore profound questions of beauty and priorities. The bit that got me emotional was a section about how children and their parents reacted to Joshua Bell’s impromptu underground performance:
A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She’s got his hand.
“I had a time crunch,” recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. “I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement.”
Evvie is her son, Evan. Evan is 3.
You can see Evan clearly on the video. He’s the cute black kid in the parka who keeps twisting around to look at Joshua Bell, as he is being propelled toward the door.
“There was a musician,” Parker says, “and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.”
So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan’s and Bell’s, cutting off her son’s line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look. When Parker is told what she walked out on, she laughs.
“Evan is very smart!”
The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.
There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. 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.
It makes me think about all of our walks with Callum, and his dogged insistence that we dawdle over one thing or another — a crack in the sidewalk, a puddle, a stick, a stranger — rather than proceed to our destination. Here’s hoping I’m aware enough to really look and listen — and dawdle — when he’s alerting me to the presence of beauty.
P.S. Here’s a video (w/audio) of the performance.