The Little Girl in Lebanon

by Rebecca Jackson

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Lebanon for the first time. Thanks to three very generous people (conductor Thomas Kim, violinist Maya Maalouf, and cellist Ani Kalayjian), I had the opportunity to perform for a variety of communities during my stay in Beirut. 
Beirut is both an ancient and bustling modern city, laced with an unending trove of culinary delights and decidedly hospitable people. I attended a beautiful Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra concert. Surprisingly, they were founded just a few years ago in 1998. Later I explored the ancient port city of Byblos, identified as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (5000 B.C.). It felt as though I had stepped onto the most incredible Indiana Jones movie set when we took in Jeita Grotto, two distinct and interconnected karstic limestone caves, coursing nearly 6 miles. On city streets and in more intimate settings, I learned a lot from meeting scores of people. It was fascinating to hear their many distinct views on a wide range of local and international topics.

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In addition to concerts in the conventional setting of a concert hall, Ani Kalayjian, Maya Maalouf, and I engaged in a musical outreach to Iraqi and Syrian refugee children at Insan School and at the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon (affiliated with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital).

A particular encounter stands out among all the others during my 8 days in Lebanon. One child at the Cancer Center made the strongest impression on me. The center itself is a very warm and inviting place, full of bright, happy colors and engaging artwork that adorns the walls. First, we performed in the lobby area for a group of rather shy children, their enthusiastic family members and caretakers. Next, we gladly agreed to perform for another group of kids restricted upstairs due to the intensive nature of their treatment.

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Maya Maalouf, Rebecca Jackson, and Ani Kalayjian with the kids in the lobby of the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon.

There a beautiful and tiny girl connected to a machine caught my eye. She was standing next to someone I took to be her father. The child’s eyes were dark, staring intently as we spoke and performed. Her gaze was utterly serious. She never smiled. Did she even blink? So small and only 2 years old, her posture and demeanor made her seem an entire lifetime older.

After our prepared performance, each musician broke off and began to interact one-on-one with the kids. I went directly to the little girl connected to a machine and tried everything to get her to give me even a tiny smile. Without words, we began playing a duo together. This consisted of my plucking one of the violin strings and then she would pluck the same one after me. Back and forth we plucked. Her father and the staff joined me by cheering and applauding for her.

Though I was not rewarded by seeing her smile, how wonderful to share music with her. I will never forget our meeting.

Music brings light, beauty, poetry, understanding, connection and caring, all vital to a world that often seems so dark and unfair. I am reminded of my mentor, David Arben. For a man who lost his entire family during the Holocaust and survived unfathomable horrors, violin and music were everything to him. This became his family, his hope, his peace. Literally, it saved his life.

What an honor, the life of a musician. I cannot ask to make a greater contribution.

Playing for peace, Rebecca

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