Missing Out On What’s In Front of You

One of my friends posted an article by Bill McGee on Facebook about a social experiment done in January 2007.

A man was playing his violin at a D.C. Metro subway station. Most of the people just walked past him. Only a handful lingered to listen for a little, but would then move on. Children often wanted to slow down and listen, but their parents would hustle them along. He played six Bach pieces nonstop, and about 20 people dropped a few coins or a bill, netting him a total of $32.

When he finished in an hour, there was no applause or any sign of recognition. “No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.”

I was trying to figure out why people didn’t fully allow themselves to appreciate Joshua Bell’s performance. Oh, I’m sure they all had places to go/people to meet, and didn’t want to break their routine for a street performer no matter how good he might be. Or perhaps many people were going on autopilot that day—their minds preoccupied with the tasks that needed to be completed or conversations that they had had—that they simply didn’t notice him.

Then I thought about all the times we might be given a glimpse of someone’s brilliance/talent but not fully appreciating it because a) we’ve seen it before time and again—so what else is new? or b) we’re too caught up in our own concerns of everyday living to notice, or c) it’s not packaged right (i.e., it’s free—tips optional/encouraged, or it’s not in-your-face glamorous).

Let’s face it—most of us live with blinders on. It’s almost as though a voice is telling us, “Keep moving. Keep moving. There’s nothing to see.” Or, “Don’t make unnecessary eye contact or else you’ll have to make conversation. Heaven help you, if you have to talk about something other than the weather.”

As an artist and writer, I’m always on the lookout for everyday things to put into my work. I generally try to be aware of my surroundings—to listen and observe as best as I can. But I have to admit that I still miss out on the things that are happening right in front of me.

For instance, last weekend I was taking pictures during my daughter’s dance recital. While I was trying to capture her in action, I realized that even though I was there, I missed out on the actual performance. That really bummed me out.

Granted, HB was video recording the performance, but it’s not quite the same as really being present at that moment. And besides, watching a video playback is an entirely different experience compared to being at a live performance. At a live performance, a lot more things are at stake. Things can go terribly wrong in a blink of an eye, and there’s no rewind and re-record.

At the same time, there are other things happening at the performance than the show itself. The audience’s reactions can also be part of the experience. I remember a few times going to see a movie at a theater and having a more heightened experience (e.g., jumping out of my seat because of a nearby person’s gasp or because the person next to me grabbed my arm to scare me, or laughing because of another person’s laugh).

Then I rationalized to myself that I had to do what I did because although it’s nice to know there’s a video copy somewhere, the still shots tend to be more instantly gratifying and something we tend to look at more frequently, especially after it’s printed and framed/put into an album.

So, note to self—print and frame/put into an album, or at least make photos readily accessible. Make missing out on the moment worthwhile somehow.


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