As I settled into my usual table-booth this morning, I was surprised to hear a violin being tuned behind me, near the door of the men’s bathroom. There stood a woman in black slacks and a flowery blouse, playing a rather melancholy air in a minor key, the effect only slightly ruined by the running shoes peeping from beneath her pant-legs.
I am not a big fan of violin music … it takes a very good musician to make that instrument produce sounds that my ears approve; my tastes run to simple melodies rather than complex classical compositions. But I am well-acquainted with the genre; my parents enjoy classical music and such sounds were common (at least in the background) throughout my childhood.
Most of the ferry passengers ignored the musician with stony indifference … this is, after all, Seattle. Several in the immediate vicinity were visibly annoyed, packed up their laptops and moved to another part of the ferry, darting grumpy looks at the violinist. Strangely, no one was sufficiently disturbed to speak against the noise, nor did any ferry official intervene during the 35-minute voyage.
For my part, I sat and endured it … using a laptop as I do, I am most comfortable with a table; once the ferry has loaded, all the tables are taken by others with similar preferences. Eventually the violinist moved to a more cheerful tune; her skill was sufficient to limit my discomfort … it was merely annoying rather than painful. She clearly needed the practice, so perhaps I should not begrudge her any opportunity.
I wonder what would happen if I brought in a boom box and played some of my preferred music at a comparable volume. Do the passengers withhold reproof from this woman out of respect for a musician, a desire to appear cultured, or a genuine appreciation for the music? For my part, I was not sufficiently annoyed to take the risk of a confrontation with this woman. If I were to rebuke her for disturbing my peace, I would fear a hostile reaction from her as well as public censure (in the event that my fellow passengers sided with her against me). I am not sure enough of the rules of the ferry, whether explicit or social, to make a judgment; is it morally right (or permissible) for her to play in a public but enclosed place? Is it appropriate for me to assert my “right” to peace and quiet (if such a right exists) over her “right” to express herself musically? Or is this simply a case where grace should be given … neither of these “rights” need be asserted over the other since the stakes are so low (limited duration, mild annoyance).
Respect for others’ rights takes precedence, in my opinion, over any personal “right”. I would not permit my children to sing loudly or play an instrument in a public place unless the people in that place were specifically gathered to hear them. There seems a default condition of silence which is morally superior to any non-silent expression, with a possible exception given to the public reading of scripture. Paul wrote, in his letter to Timothy and the church at Ephesus:
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” I Timothy 4:13
Strangely, reading scripture aloud is something I really like to do. One of my favorite things to do in church, or especially in a wedding, is to read the scripture. There is something really profound about participating in the public proclamation of God’s Word. While I was still serving as a Deacon at our former church, I was frequently asked to read scripture from the pulpit — it was probably the best part of that job, and something I really missed once I was no longer asked.
Maybe I should start reading from the Bible out loud on the ferry … I’ll bet THAT would generate more than stony indifference.
Or maybe I should emulate this Tai Chi man, who seeks to “foster a calm and tranquil mind” (or something) through a series of intricate slow-motion forms, or movements.
As I watched him, I could barely restrain myself from shouting, in memory of the ungainly stork pose in the 80′s movie, The Karate Kid: “If properly done, no can defend!”