We never stop.
We’re always going, going, going.
We conduct conference calls while getting dressed in the morning, check email at night, and work on the weekends to make sure we stay on top of it all. Add kids to the picture and the so-called balance we claim to work for gets, well, further off balance.
Our days then begin by scrolling through email first thing in the morning with sleep deprived eyes, catching up on life outside of work on the weekends, typing, searching, texting away on our smartphones while our wee ones are running around at the park, our eyes never to leave them of course, but our mind clearly not in their moment, but ours. And at night, far after the witching hour has passed (you know that ungodly hour when no one should be awake) we write, we read, we catch up on the TV shows we haven’t watched in forever and a day. We do everything it is we don’t have a chance to do while we’re going a hundred miles an hour, because even then, when we need that check out, we simply do not know how to stop.
Last week a Facebook friend shared the story of Joshua Bell, a talented, well-known artist that played incognito in a Washington subway in 2007 without being acknowledged in face or in sound –the exquisite sound he plays on a $3.5 million violin — two days after playing one of the most intricate pieces ever written to a sold out crowd in Boston. The story has made the rounds a few times over the past few years but last week was the first I had heard it.
Commissioned by the Washington Post as “an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?,” the experiment found that no matter the beauty — a busy commuter, an occupied mind, someone already going, going, going — it would be lost. Among the 1,000+ commuters that passed by, seven stopped. Among those most affected by the sound of beauty? Children.
This past weekend my son and I went on our weekly Sunday date: the park, followed by a latte and hot chocolate. I was delayed with errands and we went later in the day than normal. The sun had lost its heat and the wind was whipping along the hillside. I was so caught up in the moment of getting him to the park so we could get in that hour or two of play before it got too cold, that I didn’t realize in my haste to go, go, go he had stopped in his tracks, pulling me to a halt alongside him. When I looked down he was leaning over to well, smell the proverbial roses. Except they weren’t roses. They were lilacs I believe. And in that moment every part of my fiber that told me to go, go, go simply… stopped.
“Mommy, look at the flowers. Smell them…they smell good,” he said to me, smiling as if he had never seen them before, every other time we made our way through the park gates.
It was freezing, the gleaming black and white soccer ball he’d been itching to kick all day was not a thought in his mind. He simply gripped my hand tighter, pulled me back and encouraged me bend down along with him and smell the flowers.
Every morning when I enter my local MUNI station on the way to work I pass a cellist that has set up camp in the main entry. He plays away, coffee no doubt long since cold. And as he plays, his concentration on the sheet music before him, never once does he stop. But today, instead of running down the stairs, mind preoccupied with whether or not I would catch the next train, I did something I never would have done had it not been for my son. I did. I stopped and listened to that beautiful music and when done smiled and watched as he acknowledged me with one of his own, as if his job for the day was done, and then went on my way.
There is always another train. There is always something that we will have to do. But there aren’t those moments – moments of serendipity when the universe is telling you what you need, when you need it most: to stop and smell the flowers.