Monday, April 9, 2007

Former American Poet Laureate Billy Collins once said that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us...

By Collins' theory, somewhere between our oppressive bosses and miserable co-workers, dirty dishes, greed, Prozac, our mothers, bills, taxes, and other offensive inevitablities, a little something gets lost. The spring in our step, our optimism, our soul's need to find the brighter, happier side of everything gets worn down. And in a city it's even worse. It's just easier to see everything that makes life so difficult when it's staring us in the face and blocking the metro turnstile during morning rush hour traffic as we try and scoot around it and get on with our day before we miss the next train.

But do we perpetuate our self absorbed misery? Are we blinding ourselves to the small happinesses that cross our paths unnoticed every day?

Take, for example, a recent experiment performed by Joshua Bell and the Washington Post. Bell, a world renowned violinist and one time child prodigy, set up shop one weekday morning in one of the busiest metro stops in Washington, DC as a street musician dressed in average casual clothing with nothing to call attention to his current fame. The demographic of metro riders who pass through this stop is very diverse, but most are well-educated and possess a minimum of some cultural knowledge. For an hour, Bell played a repertoire that included some of the music world's most challenging and heart rending pieces. Tickets to Bell's concerts are rarely found for less than $100 and usually sell out quickly, but in that hour, only a handful of people actually stopped to appreciate what was happening right in front of them for free.

When I first read this article, it instantly occurred to me to complain about how self centered and unappreciative the average person is. And then I took a step back. It's easy to be outraged at indifference, but why? More than anything, I feel sorry for people who can't recognize something peaceful and beautiful when they see it. It seems easier to be jaded, but it takes more effort to actively ignore things that make you smile.

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