The Element of Surprise

The Element of Surprise

The story about Joshua Bell playing in a Washington, D.C., subway station a few years back surfaced again last week on a Facebook post I saw. The point of the story is that, in 2008, a Washington Post reporter enlisted Bell in an experiment about people’s perceptions—in this case, how many passersby would realize they were hearing a world-class violinist and take the time to listen?

The answer is, in the 43 minutes Bell played, only one person actually recognized him. Several people stopped for a few minutes to listen, and a few of them acknowledged that the violinist was definitely talented. From the money thrown into his violin case, Bell earned some $37. It’s a poignant and well-written story, worth reading on many different levels.

Speaking of surpises, I'm hoping this iris is in bloom when I return home this weekend.

Speaking of surprises, I’m hoping this iris is in bloom when I return home this weekend.

I enjoyed seeing the story again, because to me it’s just a wonderful reminder of how unpredictable life is—in this case, you can be exiting the subway station one morning and encounter Joshua Bell playing for free. Now, like almost everyone in the article, I would not have recognized Bell, but I would have recognized the quality of the music.

Would I have stopped to listen? Again, like just about everyone in the article, if I’d had a few minutes to spare, I would have. If not, I would have focused my ears on the music for the few seconds I was in listening range, then continued on my way, grateful for a moment of beauty on the way to wherever.

Each moment of every day holds surprises and glimpses of grace. Most times the best we can do is be open to them as they waft through our lives. Sometimes we need to stop and soak in the goodness of life; sometimes, it’s simply enough to just know it’s there, waiting for our attention.

You, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

(1 Thessalonians 5:4-5)


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About the Author

Mary Carol Kendzia is a product development director for Franciscan Media Books. She lives in Rhode Island, where she occasionally dips her toes into the Atlantic and reflects on the mysteries of life, among other things.