Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Iraqi Violinist

I've known a lot of loss in life. Oh, it's true that I've lived a gilded existence, with a family that loves me, safe from war and hunger. I've never had a major illness and I've never lost a family member who wasn't ready to leave this life. But I've known loss nonetheless... phones, ipods, trinkets... a home, a job, the natural passing on of friends. I've moved countless times, often with so little notice that I've not been able to take much with me. I've left places I've loved, only to return and find that many of the things I loved about them had changed.

I've grown accustomed to loss... granted they've been little losses, but lots of them. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting better at leaving things/places/people behind. Tonight, I fear more loss and find myself pleading God to protect me from loss.

When I think of my petty fears and negligible losses, my mind inevitably turns to the Iraqi Violinist: someone I knew for a short period of time, and only knew intimately for one night - the night I translated his life story as he shared it in an interview. He's gone now, and lives only in my memory. I like it that way: I'm sure I could follow the trail of friends of friends and track him down once, but sometimes when you lose a friend it's best not to search too hard. Some losses are natural and healthy.

The Iraqi Violinist knew loss. He knew some of the little losses, but his experience of the big losses was mind-blowing. He'd lost a home, he'd lost his nationality, he'd lost any sense of security he may have, he'd lost most of his physical possessions. Most significantly, though, he'd lost his peace. He told me of how he hardly ever slept anymore, living as a refugee, the sole brother of four sisters. As a young man he was likely to be targeted by the police for deportation and by gangs for harassment. But he knew his sisters faced even greater risks so, somehow, the fact that he had not lost his immediate family members also became a root to pain and a feeling of loss. Everything he and his family now owned, including his violin, had been obtained through the charity of the local church. He now taught children, managed distributions of aid to other Iraqi refugees, and played violin for church and social engagements around town. But the desperate hole in his heart where his peace and joy should have been was so great, that all he could feel was loss.

Yes, he had lost. But even more sadly, the loss had become a parasite, evoking other, deeper losses in his spirit.

I wonder how he's doing now. I hear he's emigrated to a Western country. Has he started to recover the elusive peace and stability, the way Peter Pan eventually recovered his shadow? Does he enjoy his sisters' company and playing his music again? I don't know. But when I think of him, I feel sad that my own petty losses disturb me so deeply. I've lost the chance to visit friends, he lost his homeland. I've lost a mobile phone with a ring tone that reminded me of a special day, he lost a violin. But then I think that perhaps the perpetual little losses I experience might somehow help me to be a better friend to people like the Iraqi Violinist.

(by the way, a mini-series of fiction I told on this blog two years ago is based in part on the story of the Iraqi Violinist - click on the link "Majid's story" below if interested. In case you are tempted to extrapolate factual connections, however, you'll be disappointed - the story has been way too altered for anything like that.)

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