17 September 2009

Playing in the Rain

A couple of years ago, a journalist with the Washington Post decided to do an experiment. The question was, would people recognize concert-level performance art if it were slightly out of context?

The journalist contacted Joshua Bell, one of the worlds leading violin players, and asked him to play for just a little while in the entrance to a busy subway station in Washington D.C.

Joshua showed up to play wearing regular clothing, jeans and a beat up long sleeve shirt, and a Washington Nationals cap. His violin was beat up. To the passersby, he looked like any other street musician trying to feed himself.

He played for about 45 minutes, expertly performing some beautiful and complicated pieces. Not many people stopped. At the end of the 45 minutes, he had made about 32 dollars.

(You can read the original article here. Also, here is a later article, as the author responds to various emails and questions about the piece.)

Pastor Rob gave this example one Sunday in a sermon on context.

If we don't pay attention, we could miss things. We could miss the free Joshua Bell concert that's worth at least a hundred bucks a seat, because we don't recognize what's actually going on. Pastor Rob's point was that we miss out on hundreds of these sacred moments each day, and we need to learn how to look for God and pay attention to what He's trying to tell us. We need to teach ourselves to see God's movement in everything.

There is a beauty to this life, even in the subway station. If we move too fast, or don't remember to look, we'll miss it.

When Shan and I were talking about it later, she said the thing that struck her the most is that the children were the ones to stop.

It's rush hour on a weekday morning at a subway station. There's people heading to work, and parents are bringing their children to daycare, or school, or perhaps along with them.

And the kids are the ones who stop to listen. The kids, probably without any sort of experience with classical music. The kids, who would recognize SpongeBob but not Joshua Bell. The kids, who if asked, might say the instrument the man was playing was a guitar or a flute or a trombone.

The children are the ones who stop to listen.

The children, who are not burdened with work schedules or bosses, with budgets and shopping lists, car repairs and school and shrinking paychecks, are the ones who stop to listen.

In our year and a half of parenting, Shan and I have been intentional in our goal to let Elijah do things that other parents might not let their children do.

It's not that we think we're better, it's not that we think we've got this thing figured out at all. We're just trying to give it our best shot.

And both of us feel strongly that we should never make Elijah feel as if he isn't capable of doing something, or that he can never have any fun.

We let him jump on the bed, for crying out loud. Since he was only a few months old, we would play the "Hop" game with him. From a very young age, Eli enjoyed movement. We would take him in our arms and jump around the house, and he would smile and giggle and wave his arms. In the morning, sometimes we would take him in bed with us and do the same thing. Eventually, this evolved into the "Hop" game. When Eli got old enough to support himself, we would hold his hands and make him stand up, then bounce up and down, carrying him with us, all the while singing "Hop Hop Hop!"

Now, Eli does it all by himself. That's right. Not only did we encourage jumping on the bed, we taught him how fun it could be.

A while back, we went outside. We had our front door open, and we were listening to the sound of the rain on our tree and our roof. At one point, it was nearly too loud to talk, the rain was coming down so hard. Eli didn't leave the front door. He stood there watching and listening. Eventually, he reached up for the handle. By that time, the rain had died down a bit, so we went outside. We stood on our front porch and let the rain wash over the gutters and splash at our feet. We put our hands in the stream. Eli put his head in the stream, and laughed when it dripped down his nose. I remember playing in the rain and puddles as a kid, and I want Elijah to enjoy it as well.

Meal times can get pretty messy when you're teaching your child to eat with utensils. One of Eli's favorite meals is spaghetti. So we make it fairly often, and cut the noodles short enough so Eli doesn't choke, and let him go to town. Eventually, Eli gives up on the fork and goes with his hands, and spaghetti gets everywhere. Floor, walls, table, ears, hair, nose, armpits, inside the diaper...It takes longer to clean up than it did to eat dinner.

We're not trying to be the "cool" parents by doing these things. We're not trying to intentionally spoil Eli-we don't let him walk all over us.

We're merely trying to teach him that life is meant to be lived. That there is beauty and joy and good things all around him. That there is beauty in watching a child enjoy a messy dinner. That there is fun to be had playing in the rain. That joy can be found bouncing up and down on a queen mattress.

We do this because we want Elijah to experience life. We want him to stop and listen when he hears music in the subway station. We don't want him to simply walk by on the way to the next thing.

We do this also because it helps us stop and listen as well. Eli's discovery of spaghetti was worth a whole month of bath times for us. Who really thinks spaghetti is that much fun? Jumping on the bed? Who thinks of the consequences when you're kid is laughing so hard he's about to barf on your sheets? Who thinks of going back inside when your child is laughing at every single drop of water running off the roof?

It's about the experience.

It's about life.

Shan told me, "I let Eli do these things so that I don't forget them."

I hope we all never forget.


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