Surprised by Beauty

Thinking more about yesterday’s post, on the Washington Post experiment in which Joshua Bell’s music was ignored by well over one thousand morning commuters.

My wife insists that if our family had been in the subway station that morning, we all would have stopped and listened to the violin concert. I told her I wasn’t so sure, and that — having once been a DC Metro commuter myself — I could understand that people are often on tight deadlines, especially in the morning. There simply isn’t always time to stop and listen, no matter how beautiful the music is. After all, I pointed out, what if our family was in that subway station — but we were on our way to Mass, which was about to begin? Would we have really blown off Mass to listen to a violinist?

She replied with an excellent point: we would have at least paused and listened for a moment, making some acknowledgement of what a masterful performance he was putting on. We wouldn’t have simply hustled by, oblivious to the beauty. I agreed, in part because stopping to listen to such a performance is another aspect of homeschooling: an opportunity to take something from the course of life and find the larger lesson in it. Art and music are an important component of our childrens‘ instruction, and we have been teaching them to appreciate good classical music.

And the older our kids get, the more thankful I am for my wife’s insistence that I not listen to popular or rock music around the kids; I’ve honored that request from when they were very young, and I can see the fruits it is bearing in their attention to (and appreciation of) things that are truly good and beautiful.

Also, in reflecting on the Joshua Bell incident, I’ve realized how fortunate we are to be living a less hectic lifestyle. Yes, there are still deadlines to meet — but there is generally more flexibility about meeting them. If we find ourselves “surprised by beauty” or art, there is usually time to pause and enjoy that experience. Just this morning, I was sitting in the pasture watching the sheep graze, and found myself lingering for a few extra minutes just appreciating the colors and grace of these wonderful animals. Other days, it might be a spectacular sunset over the prairie—or an electrical storm, observed with the kids from our glassed-in front porch.

Wherever art or beauty surprises you today, I hope you stop to take it in.

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