Imagine this. It is eight in the morning in Antwerp, Belgium, and the cities largest Railway Station is crowded with people. Most walk brusquely through the large marble building, climbing and descending the broad staircases with hardly a look to one another. They are busy with cell phones, Ipods, and children gone amok. They are thick in thought. Suddenly, the constant prattle of announcements about train departures, schedule changes, and security warnings – stop. In its place comes the clear and familiar chime of Julie Andrew’s singing, “Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.”
Eye brows raise. People look around. Then a few point toward the center of the station. There, in the middle of the building’s grand entrance, a man and a young girl have begun to dance as Dame Andrew’s voice trips up the scale with a Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La Te…..
People create a birth as the two waltz forward and back. Then that birth widens as others take the cue, join hands, and join in. Soon, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty people have set down their briefcases and stepped onto the dance floor.
Before long, the entire plaza is filled with people – young, old, fat, thin, black white – all dancing in unison to The Sound of Music. Around them, bystanders watch with the puzzled and amazed look of children who have just discovered the language of letters. For a moment the ordinary has cracked open, and expectations, goals, plans, disappointments, and even pain have been replaced by wonder. Somehow, right in front of their eyes, life has become a musical. A magical incomprehensible treat, where rules have been broken and the result is not humiliation but beauty and harmony and pure and simple unadulterated joy. The onlookers begin to clap, sway, tap their feet. They tap each other on the shoulder, point, laugh, smile, sing.
Of course the event was staged. In fact, it was a promotional stunt for a Belgian television station. Still, the moment clearly captured people’s hearts and imaginations. And it continues to do so. Since March 23rd, more than two million people have viewed the four minute video on You Tube, many of them leaving comments about how emotionally moved they were by the spectacle. “I watch it several times a day, it makes me so happy,” says one. “It makes me so happy I cry,” says another.
The notion that joy and beauty can still spontaneously erupt in the middle of a hectic public place is understandably cathartic in a day and age when train stations and public squares have been used to express more violent emotions.
The idea is liberating, empowering and a deliberate statement of intent. We will not give in, it says. Even now, in the midst of economic upheaval, global warming, and ambiguous terrorist threats we will not give in to a nihilistic consumption with fear and doubt. Life is supposed to be a thrilling adventure, we are reminded by the film. Something to celebrate with music, dance and a copious amount of whimsy.
“Lets’s start at the very beginning,” Julie Andrews sings. And why not? Why not begin the day with our eyes pointed toward its potential to surprise and delight? The world is rich, the Antwerp Railway Station event reminds us, if we just set down our Ipods and share the music.
Naseem Rakha - April, 2009