Tuesday, August 22, 2006

End of Summer

This time of year has a sad element to it as a number of students are leaving, having graduated from high school and going to college in other parts of the country, or having finished college here, getting married and starting their own independent lives. This past week I had to say farewell to two wonderful young human beings. One surprised me by having beautifully memorized the Bach Chaconne for her final lesson, another one by playing the Conus violin concerto like the best of them. Although both easily could have pursued a life in music, only one decided to do so. I am reluctant to encourage anyone to go into this field in these uncertain times; yet for some music is a burning desire and they really have no other choice at this young age of hopes and dreams. This young woman in question will do fine in New York: never have I seen someone her age make so much progress in a year's time. Often a student and a teacher don't make a good match and she was stuck in that situation. In her case I was able to free her from whatever was holding her back, and was delighted to watch her blossom into a young mature artist. The previously insecure and hesitant sound has developed into a magnificient and brilliant one, and her technical potential will have no limits. I am so happy to have been able to be a catalyst in her life to help her through this metamorphosis. The other young lady has been no less of a source of joy. I know that she got a lot from me musically and she'll always play well. In turn I learned a lot from her. A true scholar, she will have a bright future ahead, no matter what she'll decide to do after her years at Rice. I hope that both of them will stay in touch for years to come. Former students are often unpredictable in that respect. Some disappear completely, others become like adopted children and make the teacher part of their families and lives for decades.

I will also greatly miss my students who graduated from the university down the hill from us. They will start their own professional lives and if they will stay in the area as it seems, we will be bumping into each other without a doubt. Since I never was able to keep the lessons as short as mandated, we also had managed to do enough talking about life and its issues to get to know each other as fellow humans. This is what I find most rewarding about teaching; learning happens in both directions. Young adults may not have the life experience of an older person, but neither are they burdened by the unpleasant realities of later life, with its backstabbings, deceit and such. It is too bad that we have to go through such negative experiences at all. If the human race only weren't so imperfect, selfish and looking for one's own benefit at any cost, life would be nice indeed. Unfortunately, in this society of ours, niceness, kindness, honesty and good will are all considered to be signs of weakness. How many acquaintances and colleagues we all know who would do just about anything to advance their own careers and other seemingly important goals. Success comes at a price, at the expense of humanity.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

No Winners

It felt good to spend a few days in beautiful and peaceful Victoria, British Columbia, away from nothing but terrifying news on the home front. The shooting of six women at the Jewish Federation in downtown Seattle was just one frightening result of the chaos that is spreading in the Middle East. As we learned that the suspect had randomly chosen a Jewish organization from the directory, it could as well have been another one where our 19-year-old had been volunteering as an intern before leaving for Mexico. What could have driven a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin to commit such a horrendous act? His roots are in a ‘friendly’ country, he has nothing to do directly with Arabs or Iranians, yet watching the grizzly images that our news channels transmit 24/7 obviously pushed him over the edge. He is not an isolated case, but rather a symptom of the deep-rooted disease of hatred that is spreading like a most vicious cancer.

War is a strange game: there are no winners, just losers. In addition, the traditional rules of war have been scrapped. Instead of armies fighting each other on the battlefield, one’s enemy no longer has a uniform and hides in the midst of civilian population. Perhaps every army ought to transform itself to a militia or guerilla organization and forget about uniforms or any other traditional symbols of the military. What if Israel equipped itself with thousands of similar rockets that the Hezbollah uses and utilized them instead of the traditional methods that have proven to be surprisingly ineffective against the invisible enemy? Would the world’s opinion be more favorable? That would at least be more of an-eye-for-an-eye tactic and make the Lebanese militants taste their own medicine. With the large-scale destruction caused by aerial and heavy artillery bombing, there are too many uneducated people rooting for the seeming underdog, the guerillas of Hezbollah.

As I have written before, the rapidly worsening situation in Iraq (as well as in Afghanistan) has moved down in the list of important news. Our two top generals from Iraq openly admitted that the scene there has never been this bad. Mr. Rumsfeld sounded completely out of touch with reality when he insisted that the U.S. must stay in Iraq, otherwise Muslims will conquer Spain and the Philippines. What a surreal statement indeed! The N.Y. Times published a good editorial on this just two days ago. Many experts don’t see any other direction for Iraq than the country being split into three. One mustn’t forget that all borders in that corner of the world were artificially created by Western colonial powers. Those sheiks, caliphs and other local rulers that had provided favors to the former masters were rewarded by putting them in charge of ‘countries’. Israel is an exception, as few really wanted it there in the first place, in spite of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The persistent Zionists kept on moving to their ancestral land, and finally the country was ready to declare its independence in 1948, immediately followed by a war with its upset neighbors. Had their been no Third Reich, or if Great Britain and the United States would have accepted the Jews Germany supposedly was offering them, thus avoiding the horrors of Holocaust, perhaps there wouldn’t have been a mass exodus of Jewish people entering Palestine. Of course there are no ifs, otherwise the world wouldn’t be in such a mess. Just imagine how different the world would be today if the Supreme Court hadn’t voted on party lines to decide the outcome of the 2000 presidential election...

So, Canada treated me and my little one with genuinely friendly smiles and warmth. One wouldn’t expect such a difference in people but it was very evident. Of course in a major tourist destination one anticipates visitors to be treated well, but even when shopping or dining with ordinary local denizens, nothing changed. Perhaps the fact that the country is not in a war helps people to relax, or it is possible that Canada, at least in that part of it, is more evolved and civilized. We enjoyed all the different bear statues around the city. We also saw a couple IMAX movies at the Royal B.C. Museum, one of which, the ‘Mystic India’, was very impressive, retelling the 1790s story of a young boy walking barefoot all across India for seven years and eight thousand miles. Anyone who has a chance should see it. What a powerful story, and what incredible scenes with a cast of 45,000! We walked away from the show feeling peaceful and enlightened. Every person involved in bloody politics and decisions that cause death and mayhem would learn from watching it: the only way we humans can coexist is by tolerance and honoring all life.