The Circles We Draw

A young man stood in a Metro station in Washington DC on a January morning and started to play his violin.  He played Bach and Massenet and Schubert for over 45 minutes.

When he stopped playing, beyond one kind woman, no one turned.  In fact, no one even noticed, or clapped hands or shared a final gesture of acknowledgement, much less any appreciation.

The young man placed his violin carefully in its case and then he left for the day.  He probably had other appointments.  After all, he performs over 200 engagements each year in every corner of the globe.  In fact, just three nights earlier, he had played to a full house at Boston’s Symphony Hall where the cheap seats were eagerly purchased for $100.00 each.

And so it was that Joshua Bell – arguably the most highly-acclaimed violinist in the world, touting one of the most-exquisite instruments in the world – stood in a Metro station in Washington DC on a January morning playing his violin. And no one noticed.

If you’re like me, we find ourselves asking the obvious question, “Why?”

We like to draw circles around stuff, things and people.  And these circles we draw around stuff, things and people delineate what we can see from what we can’t see.

For those in Boston Symphony Hall who drew a circle by labeling a young violinist Music Director of St. Martin the Field, or appointee to the artist committee of the Kennedy Center Honors, they could see transcendent beauty. But for those in a subway station who drew a circle by labeling a young violinist homeless, or transient, or nuisance, transcendent beauty was completely beyond their reality.

In a very real sense, the circles we draw don’t so much limit stuff, things and people as they limit us. At which point we must ask, “What are the circles we draw for ourselves?”

They’re easy to spot.  They usually begin with statements such as, “Well you know, my genetics are,” or, “Well you know, my history is,” or, “Well you know, my education is.”

And what are the circles we draw for each other?

They usually begin with statements such as, “Liberals are,” or, “Conservatives are,” and they extend to, “women are, men are, gays are, my children are,” or my favorites, “Christians are, non-Christians are, those Christians are, good Christians are,” not to mention, “Muslims are, Jews are, Buddhists are.”

The upshot is that regardless of the circles you have drawn around yourself - circles of disease, circles of lack, circles of limitation, circles of mediocrity - you can draw bigger circles in which the real you can be discovered and welcomed as unlimited, eternal and dynamic soul stuff, ever-unfolding in its exploration of its infinite perfect nature.

And regardless of the circles we have drawn around each other - circles of race, circles of geography, circles of age, circles of class and (dear God) circles of religion - we can draw bigger circles in which the real we can be discovered and welcomed as a something of a symphony of equal and necessary parts, inextricably bound together in a greater whole we call God.