During Sunday’s Weekend Edition on NPR, I heard an inspiring story of one of this year’s MacArthur “Genius” grants recipients- Vijay Gupta. The “genius” grants are awarded to individuals who show "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction" According to the Foundation's website, "the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential".
Mr. Gupta is a violinist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic whose life's work has been to make music accessible to all. Very early in his career he saw the destitution in LA’s Skid Row. He was amazed that individuals with all sorts of troubles- mental illness, chronic homelessness-were within walking distance to one of the world’s greatest concert halls. After meeting a gentleman who due to mental illness dropped out of Julliard and became chronically homeless, Mr. Gupta formed Street Symphony, a group that plays in jails, shelters and clinics.
What I loved about the story were the quotes of Mr. Gupta and his philosophy of doing what he is doing:
"We all have a story and every person deserves access to tell that story. When we listen to someone's story with reverence and respect, their life matters. Their neighborhood matters. Their histories matter," he says. For him music can “…open the pathways to beginning those conversations and to pay attention to the fragility and pain and vulnerability that exists with every single one of us, “
His story once again reminds me of a couple of things:
1) We really do not know someone’s story until they tell us. We cannot make pre-judgements about the people we see or meet. In this case, the gentleman Mr. Gupta met had been living in Skid Row for almost twenty years. Turns out, the fellow was a great musician but because of his mental health, was reduced to living in the streets. It was only in meeting him did he realize that we cannot assume anyone’s story.
2) Every one carries pain and is fragile and vulnerable about something.
3) The Arts- music, visual art, written arts is such a vital component to every one. It lifts us up, it speaks when we cannot, and it can explain our condition. As Mr. Gupta says about the music they performed for the “street” folks:
"It was our audiences in these spaces who would raise their hands and say 'Well what was the composer feeling when they wrote that because I heard this.' And then they would tell us a story or anecdote of their life that exactly reflected where the composer or where we as performers exactly were in our emotional life," Gupta says. "So this was actually one of the most astute and emphatic and engaged audiences that we'd encountered in our lives."
What about you? What makes you fragile? Has anyone ever paid attention to your vulnerability? How did that make you feel?
Have you ever witnessed another person’s pain? What did you do about it? What was the circumstance that led to the sharing of either your own pain or another’s?
How do you respond to the Arts? How can you share the Arts with someone else?
While I am happy for Mr. Gupta and don’t want to belittle his “genius” award, I think each one of us has a genius within: when we connect with one another through word, picture or thought, we share our authentic selves and in turn invest in another’s potential.