You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Ann Kroeker is an acclaimed writer and speaker committed to encouraging and inspiring women as they face the demands of daily living. She is the author of The Contemplative Mom and has contributed to the award-winning Experiencing the Passion of Jesus.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Just before eight o’clock on a Friday morning in January 2007, renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell pulled his instrument from its case and launched into Bach’s “Chaconne.” For this special performance, he wasn’t onstage at The Kennedy Center or Carnegie Hall. This particular morning, at the request of the Washington Post, he stood against a bare wall in the indoor arcade of a DC Metro stop, dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a baseball cap.
Wearing such ordinary attire in such a heavily trafficked, unremarkable public spot, playing for average Joes and Janes on their way to work, he’d be easy to mistake for just another nondescript street musician trying to make a buck.
He’d be easy to ignore, that is, if you didn’t pick up on the dazzling sounds of this classical music superstar. Joshua Bell—one of the finest violinists of our time performing some of the greatest music ever written, who only three days earlier performed in Boston’s Symphony Hall where “pretty good” seats went for $100—was playing a bustling Metro stop for free. Incognito. The Post arranged this as an “experiment in context, perception and priorities… in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”1
Ah, would beauty touch people’s souls? Would they respond to the music? Would they even notice he was there? Would large crowds gather to take in the world-class performance placed directly in their paths?
During the forty-three minutes he played, 1,097 people passed by.
Only seven stopped to hang around and listen.
Most scurried past, minds full of pressing appointments and projects due. Maybe they noticed, maybe they didn’t. Perhaps they noticed but didn’t want to give any money, so they lowered their heads and continued without making eye contact.
Reporters gathered a few stories. They interviewed those seven who stopped as well as many who didn’t.
One who didn’t stop stood out to me because she was a mom. I could easily put myself in her shoes. Bell was a couple of minutes into “Ave Maria” when this mom, Sheron Parker, stepped off the escalator with her preschooler in tow and rushed through the arcade. She walked briskly, pulling along her child by the hand. She faced a time crunch—she needed to get her son, Evan, to his teacher, and then rush back to work for a training class.
As they passed through, Evan was instantly drawn to the music. He kept twisting and turning around to get a look at Joshua Bell, but mom was in a hurry. With no time to stop, she did what any of us might do—she positioned herself between Evan and Bell, blocking Evan’s view. As she rushed him out the door, three-year old Evan was still leaning around to snatch one last peek at the violinist.
A reporter spoke with Parker afterward, asking if she remembered anything unusual. She recalled, “There was a musician, and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.” When told what she walked out on, she laughed. “Evan is very smart!”
But Parker wasn’t the only parent who hustled her child along. The paper studied the video and concluded:
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.2
Every single child that passed the music tried to stop. Every child yearned to listen. To see the bow dance across the strings. The children instinctively wanted to bask in the beauty and delight of the near-miraculous sounds that poured out of that Stradivarius violin and into their otherwise hustled-and-bustled everyday lives.
And every single parent scooted the child along.
No time to stop and enjoy the beauty, kids; we have appointments to keep and money to make. We’re running late. Let’s go. My boss will be waiting. Move along.
It could have been me. At one point, early in parenting, I might have passed right by on my way to something I thought was more important. As I wise up and embrace a slower life, I like to think
I’d choose to stop, that I would have dropped everything and had my children sitting in a semicircle around the musician. Absorbed. Transfixed.
Those parents have better excuses than I would have had. They’re working hard, rushing to make it to the office on time. Who can linger at a Metro stop listening to a street violinist and risk showing up late to an intense DC government workplace? They have to keep going, keep moving, watch the clock, and stay on schedule. There’s no time for spontaneity, and no time to alter the plan to accommodate beauty and linger with it.
Taking in art, music, or stories takes time. It takes attention. Appreciating beauty requires a degree of stillness.
I thought of a trip we took to Paris on our way to visit family. I wanted our girls to see the Louvre, but we had very little time. So we embarked on a compressed, rushed, American-style “highlights” tour: Hurry, kids!
Run to see Winged Victory, snap a picture.
Rush to Venus de Milo—snap-snap-snap.
Quick, get in the long line to see Mona!
Enter the crowded, hot room.
Philippe lifted up each child above the crowd to peek at the famous lady locked behind bulletproof glass.
“Can you see it?” he asked.
“Take a good look.”
“I see it.”
“Okay.” Next kid, same questions, same responses.
What Are We Missing Out On?
“You saw the painting?” we asked one more time before exiting.
“Yes, Papa! I saw it!”
And we left.
“That’s it?” they asked after were out of the room.
“What do you mean, ‘That’s it?’” I replied. “That’s It. That’s the Mona Lisa!”
“But it was so small,” one of the girls remarked.
“I didn’t see it,” said another.
“The room was roasting hot.”
“I need a drink of water.”
“Why were people taking all those pictures with a flash when the sign said not to?”
Yep. That was it. Those are their rushed and hurried memories. They didn’t really see anything. Basically, they were in the same room as the Mona Lisa. That’s all they can really say about it, because we had no time to linger with one of the most enigmatic works of art in the entire world. We had to move along and make room for the next herd of tourists.
While we rushed past some statues carved by Michelangelo, I thought back to the long hallway that led to the Mona Lisa. How many other da Vincis did we pass on our way? There were two side by side that we could have stopped and studied, as there was no crowd right there. I did pause in front of them briefly. “Hey!” I announced to my family, “These are da Vincis, too!”
We could have stayed there as long as we wished—no crowds—but we were in a hurry, so we scurried along down the great, long hall.
Americans in the Louvre. Quelle horreur!
Yet, what beauty we brush past every single day—and scoot our children past, as well! They learn, eventually, to ignore the impulse to respond, to revel. They learn to be efficient tourists; diligent students
hustled from one class period to another; and eventually busy and reliable employees answering e-mails and juggling multiple projects and reports. Over time, we schedule spontaneity right out of them. Without meaning to, we teach them that beauty isn’t worth our time or attention.
Each child is born with eyes to see so clearly the beauty all around and hear rhythm in our speech; in their youth, children’s ears aren’t yet deadened to the music all around. They hear the mockingbird serenading them from a telephone pole. They stop to stare at frost patterns on window panes. If we would stop tugging them away, they would admire the Mona Lisa and Joshua Bell. Their hearts are still open; their minds alert. They would stop. They would linger.
They just need us to slow down.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem that included these lines:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.
I used to think: Oh, that is so true.
I’ve concluded that few adults even see the blackberries, let alone the common bush, and certainly not the fire of God. I wonder if the only ones left who have a chance of seeing—the only ones who will even think to take off their shoes—are the children. We grown-ups are too busy running, racing, rushing to even see the small faces lit with love and wonder, looking up at us in the busy Metro, asking to stay and listen to the pretty music.
I’m certain Joshua Bell won’t be at the corner bus stop of our suburban neighborhood serenading us incognito as we drop off our kids and head to work. But what did I pass by this week? How much did I miss?
I’ll never know. I can’t know, because it’s already gone. But, like mercies new every morning, tomorrow holds more beauty. Will I see it?
Jesus talked about those who see, but don’t see: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matt. 13:13).
He meant it spiritually, of course. He quoted from Isaiah, saying:
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them. (Matthew 13:15)
Is this, on some level, a description of the people in the Metro? Of me? Does this capture most of our stressed-out, high-speed culture? Are our hearts calloused by the relentless pace and pressure of our
schedules? Are we missing the beauty of Christ?
Maybe we can’t see … or, maybe we don’t want to see.
We hardly hear with our ears. We’ve closed our eyes.
We miss Joshua Bell when he’s only four feet away from us playing Bach.
Worst of all, we miss Yeshua, as well, even though He is right with us, inviting us to know Him.
Open our minds, Lord, to comprehend Your truth.
Open our hearts, Lord, to believe.
And slow us down, to take it all in.
But blessed are your eyes because they see,
and your ears because they hear
I propose that we practice pausing at the end of each chapter—to slow, to pray, to begin to see—starting right now. Take a deep breath (which is an act of slowing), and peruse the Slow Notes that follow. You’re welcome to abruptly slam on the brakes, but it’s probably more realistic to ease into a slower pace as you learn to notice—and enjoy—some of the little things lost in the blur of a frenzied life.
Ask the Lord to open your family’s eyes and ears to see and hear something from Him today. This is a great time to begin praying specifically about how the Lord wants your family to slow down. Ask Him to keep your eyes open to see Him more clearly in this crazy, sped-up world we’re trying to evaluate. And then be on the lookout for what He reveals.
Consider trying out one or more of the slow-down ideas below that stand out to you.
• Take a trip to an art museum. Stare at something beautiful. Stare for a long, long time.
• Go outside with your kids and look at things with a magnifying glass: a violet, clover, an ant, some bark.
• Sketch something. Paint something. Sit with the kids to create art that takes your full attention: Try to copy a great work of art. Blob color onto thick paper like Van Gogh. Draw and shade some people or birds like Leonardo da Vinci in his notebooks.
• Borrow a telescope to look at some stars.
• Take close-up photos with your camera and try unusual angles to see everyday details a little differently.
• Write a poem based on something detailed that you observed closely.
• Borrow a Joshua Bell CD from the library. Listen to what all those people at the Metro stop passed by.
• Tell your children the story of the Metro concert, and then ask them to listen to the CD as well. What do they think? Write it down.
Live from the Slow Zone: Ann Voskamp
We hear them far off in the woods, just as the sun sinks further down, and I stop, like you do when the world slips up behind and surprises you, and my son can’t believe it either, so we stand there and listen long and neither one of us can stop smiling.
The frogs have returned.
Then, after a bit, he and the dog go crashing off through the quiet of dusk coming down, worn carpet of leaves rustling as they bound through, both boy and Lab questing for game and excitement, but his little sister and I, we just stand there, having already found it. For hadn’t I mentioned that the frogs had returned?
On pond’s rim, she, her small fingers entwined through mine, stands wordlessly. A symphony of sound, trilling low and deep, fills the spaces between the trees, lifts us too. The light falls warm on our winter-faces, and this tattered snow still hugs water’s edge. But that sound. From where? It is like it’s the water itself, a looking glass of trunks and limbs, that croons.
At first, when I am still looking with everyday eyes, I don’t notice them. It takes time for eyes to adjust to stillness, to slow and really see. And then, they are, on the far side, these glinting eyes flickering up through waters cold and murky. The peepers are back and we see them.
I want front row seats. Can we pick our way across the swamp and closer? She squeezes my hand tight and across the bog we splash.
In a flash, the pond snaps shut. All is soundless. Just glassy reflection of branches pointing to that curve of muted moon come early.
She and I swish swash further out, as far as we can go. Then wait.
On this isle of tangled grass, the water slowly rises up to boot ankles. A red-tailed hawk swoops and soars, his wings motionless on the currents. Moon rides higher, tailing sun dipping. We say nothing, this Little One and I, but watch swamp’s mirror, waiting stock-still for singers emerging. Bungler Lab charges up, smashing reflection of anticipating faces.
“Go, Boaz!” she whispers in a loud lisp. “We waiting for the frogs to thing!” From within the woods somewhere, boy whistles and dog ricochets off.
Again, we wait.
Then one by one, they pop to the light. We catch our breath and dare not move. Then tentatively it comes, this chorus, then crescendo, throaty yet gilded, and she squeezes my hand and we smile, spellbound.
Long we soak in these songs on golden pond.
And then, when our toes are cold and the shadows stretch to fading dark, it’s time to go.
“We leaving the frogs, now?” she whispers up to me.
True, I too could stay here forever, but yes, time to go home. Things to do.
We splash through the water, feet seeking islands of matted grass. The sudden hush turns our heads. She’s soundless, the swamp, blinked silent by our sloshing.
I scoop her up and tickle her ear with what I’m endlessly learning and relearning:
“Sometimes we only hear life sing when we still.”3