Tuesday, October 13, 2009

For Free

Even if it didn't happen it's still true -- Ken Kesey
Nancy forwarded this story to me.
In a Washington, DC Metro station on a cold winter morning, a violinist played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. Two thousand people passed through the station during that time, and of course most were hurrying to work, constrained both by time and the unfriendly weather. Only once in a while did anyone stop for a few seconds; one lady threw money in the musician's hat but didn't stop. Ten minutes went by before anyone else paid attention; only six people in total stopped to listen during the three-quarters of an hour. Children tried to, but were pulled along by their parents. After collecting $32, the violinist finished and silence took over; there was no recognition or reaction.
The performer was Joshua Bell, a famous virtuoso, who had played some of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a superior instrument valued at $3.5 million. Two days before, he had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats cost an average of $100. We are extremely tunnel-visioned and rigidly conditioned to respond in prescribed ways to our environment, like lab rats, aren't we? Not to mention our appalling taste, lack of perception and questionable priorities...
In the movie American Beauty, it took a character who could not function "normally" to see exquisite beauty in the swirling image of an ordinary plastic bag caught in a rising gyre of wind.
If it's not in an accepted context, beauty, talent or value can be invisible -- as we move forward with eyes wide shut. Mr. Nelson's advice in The Tao of Willie: stop and smoke the roses!
On the flip side, there is often perceived value in valueless icons such as celebrities and other two-dimensional faux heroes (John Wayne, sports Hulks, Ronald Raygun), luxury merchandise, bestsellers that aren't even good fireplace fuel, or the latest complex and short-lived gadget.
You can pay a lot in money or time, and really get nothing. Something you happen across by cosmic accident might just be priceless.
I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free.


  1. Amazing wonders happen every day if we are just quiet enough to see and hear them. Free experiences are all around us if we can just take notice.