by Intern Desk
Ed. Note: This week’s entry is written by Ryan Hall, a current intern at St. Anthony Foundation.
Sometimes the most profound experience of the Divine occurs in the most unexpected place. Since I began my internship at St. Anthony’s last fall, my usual mode of transit is through the Civic Center BART and for nearly seven months one man has been capturing my fascination, Melvin the violin man. If you’ve been through there, you know exactly who I am talking about. His appearance is much like those of many homeless individuals who have few resources to take care of themselves, tattered and dirty clothes, missing teeth, and carrying everything he owns. Yet, he is by no means ordinary. Melvin is in the BART station nearly every time I go through there and he is always playing a violin, always smiling and occasionally dancing. There is one caveat however; his music is not typical by any means. To the trained and untrained ear, Melvin’s music often sounds like fingernails on a chalk board. When I first saw him I thought he was just trying to be funny to make a buck, as all the strings on his violin were clearly broken. Whether it’s drugs, mental illness or inspiration, I do not know, but as the months went by I realized that Melvin really believed he was playing something beautiful. He even has sheet music that he appears to have written, and occasionally stops playing in order to edit it for just the right notes. His concertos are truly unique!
When I see him however, many questions come to mind. We live in a society that often places primary value on a person through their wealth, fame, professional skill or advanced knowledge, yet Melvin doesn’t quite fit into any of these categories. His music will never get him a record contract and most likely he will never be famous and make millions (though he is fairly popular on YouTube).
If this is how society frequently judges people, I often wonder, where does Melvin fit, not to mention all those we serve at St. Anthony’s? As a Christian, I believe every human being is loved by God and therefore has inherent human dignity and value that can never be taken away. Each time I see Melvin, I am reminded of this. Melvin challenges our culture to look beyond our superficial values and see the person for who they really are. They have nothing else to offer, but themselves. Melvin tries to offer his skill, knowing that is what his culture wants if his life is to have value, but his skill is frequently not appreciated. Nevertheless, when I walk by I am able to recognize his true value, which is so much greater than anything our society could place on him. Sometimes, I imagine that he really is playing a beautiful piece of music, certainly God can hear it. I thank God for Melvin each time I see him because without him, I may not recognize humanity’s true value and the divine presence in each one of us.