Of Idioms, Violins in Subways, and Wellness in a Hurried World

By , on April 7, 2013

Morning commuters a-flurry and in a hurry all pass him by: Joshua Bell (background left corner) plays a 45-minute set on a 3.5 million dollar violin.
Morning commuters a-flurry and in a hurry all pass him by: Joshua Bell (background left corner) plays a 45-minute set on a 3.5 million dollar violin.
The Joshua Bell that people know and pay to see. Externals dictate what we deem beautiful, and prestige gets top dollar.
The Joshua Bell that people know and pay to see. Externals dictate what we deem beautiful, and prestige gets top dollar.
With not even as much as a glance over the shoulder, beauty falls on ears deafened by the din of life.
With not even as much as a glance over the shoulder, beauty falls on ears deafened by the din of life.

FROM CHILDHOOD we are inundated by idioms meant to inspire, motivate, caution, and–occasionally—rebuke.

“The early bed gets the worm!” To get us out of bed for school. Usually spoken by harassed mothers to children who sleep like it was going out of style.

“A penny saved is a penny earned!”; to get us to put aside some of our lunch money and appreciate the value of being a spendthrift.

“About face!” As in, “you do an about face and march right back into that bathroom, young lady! Those teeth need brushing!”

“Bite your tongue” because heaven forbid we talk back to our parents, teachers, figures of authority.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” Choices need to be made; priorities, set. No matter how bewildering to a child’s mind. This one particularly frustrated my 6-year old psyche, and I grew up hell-bent on finding ways to have my cake and eat it, too. Sadly, the idiom holds true on most occasions.

Enter the teenager, young adult; segue into adult years. Come forth the idioms, with a slightly different focus, to address the new stations of life.

“The more, the merrier!” An all-time teenage favorite.

“Curiosity killed the cat.” An all time parents-of-teenagers favorite precaution.

“Hit the books.” Don’t we all remember being students?  The homework, tests, studying.  Been there, done that. Can’t say I miss it too much.

“Head over heels.” Aaaah, young love.

“Dog eat Dog” as we move into the equally idiomatic “rat race.”

“Burning the midnight oil” is what we do as young guns out to prove ourselves in the world of professionals.

“Cross your fingers” when we anxiously await the results of burning the midnight oil, and can only hope for the best turnout.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” To remind us to live a balanced life, despite having to make a buck in a—well—dog-eat-dog world.

As we mature, the idioms indicate the new focus:  work, career, family, business. Something is lost along the way: innocence, idealism, the ability to appreciate beauty and the simpler things.

A social experiment was recently conducted by the Washington Post and world-famous violinist, Joshua Bell. Bell played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars at the Metro DC subway station. It was January 12, at 7:15 a.m., the height of the morning rush hour in one of the world’s busiest capital cities. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen to him play; among them, a 3-year-old boy. Only one person recognized him. Ironically, the people who walked by Bell are perhaps the same ones who readily shell out $100 or more to catch one of his sold-out concerts at the Kennedy Center.

Some comments to the video of the experiment, uploaded on YouTube:

Michael Nagurny said: “Honestly, No one is going to stop…here are your options – Miss your train and maybe get fired/Lose a chance at a raise, Or listen to some random dude play an instrument even be it very skilled. Try this is a mall or such where people won’t get fired for listening and I’m sure you will see different results.”

To which “eiffler714” replied: “Doing it where it was done was the whole point. Do people truly recognize high art when they stumble across it or only when they are prepped for it? If instead of Josh Bell what if they had put Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith in that station? Pick two other pop artists whose music is disposable but identifiable. I’m guessing there would have been a crowd when they finished.”

Subscriber “jimmy g” pointed out that “some things are more important than money. Most everything of real value is, love, peace, happiness, music. art. but our owners have taught us [our] value is being cattle and produce for the machine. The death of a mind.”

Indeed, the Divine created us in 3 parts—spirit, soul, body. We ARE a spirit; we HAVE a soul; we LIVE in a body. Most religions and faiths across the world subscribe to this belief.

We feed the body and all it desires. Bigger, better, faster, more; the insatiable demands of the flesh.  This is why we get caught in a vicious cycle of work: we work hard so we can acquire; the more we acquire, the more we want; the harder we work.

Meanwhile, spirit and soul are starved. Emaciated, even. The food on which they thrive: art, beauty, the sublime, good literature, daydreams, relaxation and quite time, meaningful reflection—all tossed aside as fanciful, frivolous, unnecessary in favor of the “more important,” “grown-up” things of life.

Granted, it is easy for most to connect with the physical, as it is what is visible to us. We see and readily perceive outward beauty, and as such, are more inclined to focus on this. In the specific case of Joshua Bell and the experiment, the outward beauty and prestige of a $100 ticket at The Kennedy Center is a clear winner—a “must-have,” if you will—compared to taking the time to listen to some seemingly random starving artist violin player in the subway. People saw and heard what the physical dictated.  Never mind that the talent was one and the same; the violin, priceless.

Our lives have become way too compartmentalized; way too consumed by externals.

But an ailing soul and spirit will eventually affect the physical.  So much so that when negative emotions set in, it is difficult to feel and look beautiful.

There is a vast chasm between happiness and joy; satisfaction and contentment. The latter, more fleeting than the former. The acquisition of new things, for instance, may make you happy and satisfied, but for how long? Feeding your spirit and soul, on the other hand, will provide a more lasting effect which will show up from the inside, out. Inner beauty reflected. Cliché and idealistic? Perhaps; but also true.

Depression, fatigue, anxiety, anger, stress, envy, greed, materialism; the attachment to “stuff,” and mental turmoil are common afflictions in this modern age. Countless studies have already proven that these conditions often contribute to the destruction of healthy cells, diminish anti-aging properties, and cause hormonal imbalances. They also trigger a plethora of beauty-related problems: poor skin, hair loss, eating disorders and obesity, to name a few. No matter the external solution or wonder treatment, the problem is not truly addressed until the inner causes are dealt with.

Focus and balance need to be restored. YES, life is often dog-eat-dog.  And many times, we may have to burn midnight oil to succeed. But there’s so much more to it than that.

“Take your hat off to someone” and let them know you appreciate them. Start with your family, perhaps. Hugs are always great, and the best thing about them is when you give them, you generally get one back.

Forget about the “grass being greener on the other side of the fence.” Feeding your soul and spirit, more often than not, makes the grass on your own side greener.

“Stop and smell the flowers.” Their beauty is sublime. Or stop to have a listen at a violin player in the subway.  Allow the music to infuse and uplift your soul. And it won’t cost you $100, either.

The sands of time run swift for us all. And I will—at the risk of idiom-induced nausea—make my last two references:  life’s too short for you to spend all your energies chasing after material, physical gain. After all, you can’t take it with you when you’re gone.