A society opens to the world and is transformed in a way that is never ending, in a way that will only happen once. The stories that emerge—perhaps buried, now budding, or formerly hidden in a tricky place, as a kid might say—these stories are manifold: small disturbances and epic shifts, chronicling discovery and recounting what is being lost, moments of joy and grief, of naïveté and cynicism. The moral of the tale is not immediately clear, but that’s how life is sometimes: lessons want learning twice, thrice, 400 million times. Or perhaps the stories weren’t hidden, you just didn’t see the flower for the meadow, leastways not in this light, whose photons bounce off the scene before you and land on the exposed sensors on the camera you carry. Also revealed: sandy deserts and snow-covered playgrounds, a shepherd showing off the pride of his shaggy flock. Listen to the stories the girl is telling you about her village here amid the rice paddies of Myanmar. In the heat of summer, feel the thud when the hammer you’re holding drives nail into bamboo plywood, and you’re one stroke closer to building your sun-powered house. With lips to reed on the bassoon you cradle, breathe the notes of the symphony written on the page. What do you hear? Ebullience. That, too, in the face of the mother in Havana who welcomes you, the stranger, into her home, feeds you rice and frijoles negros. Taste the kindness. What else? Stability and fear, suffering and redemption and suffering, and here we go again. So, with hunger and curiosity, look to the past and the present and what may come, seeking a narrative arc that deepens understanding, that grapples with the good and the bad about what might be done here, now: on a bucolic campus, where a holy man in saffron and red robes speaks of compassion. Then look outward to discover what is recognizable in the unfamiliar: in the rain forests of Costa Rica studying the capuchin monkey, teaching girls in a village in The Gambia, in your life and work in Takhar and Yangon, in Sacramento and the West Bank, in Houston and Peru, on the sidewalks of New York or the streets of Ukraine—perhaps Donetsk, where Santa Clara students and scholars went east and studied and taught before the Soviet Union broke up, or Kharkiv, where SCU grads and mentors in education quietly worked with physicians to change the way orphaned children are cared for, or an army base near Khmelnitsky, where almost two decades ago I stood on the edge of a missile silo that was in the process of being blown apart, the warheads already taken away—and we’d come a long way from the Cuban missile crisis, hadn’t we? That was 1962, a year not coincidentally the title of a series of paintings by an artist who has taken steel cores of missiles and melted them down into symbols of peace. Art and beauty can fire the imagination, and where will that take us tomorrow? There are 7 billion people on this planet and they all desire to be happy. You’re one of us, right?
Keep the faith,
Steven Boyd Saum