Monday, May 24, 2010

I feel like my generation is lacking the concept of commitment.

For the past couple of months I've been trying to figure out what I want to get involved in next year, whether that be a position in student council, AMSA, being a class representative, leading the group of believers next year, or just focusing on classes. There's a lot that I want to do, and could see myself doing a good job in, but I really don't want to sign myself up for something that I'm not willing to commit to 100%. I see and hear too many people talking about their passion and their vision for a project or group or for the school, and then when the time comes for action. not really acting on those promises or ideals that they so readily proclaim when we're all sitting in the classroom between lessons, lazily waiting to be fed information. It's too easy to get caught up in day to day lives, preserving our comfort and making life as easy as possible rather than acting on the commitments we've made.

I'll admit it, I'm an idealist, a characteristic that has definitely been reinforced by the obscene number of movies that I've been watching lately (I think I've watched more movies in this last semester than I have in the rest of my life combined, but that's a story for another time). It seems like the main theme that runs through the most recent ones has been this level of commitment to a cause which is absolutely extraordinary, at least when contrasted with the commitment I see in 99% of the population today.

The one movie that stands out the most to me is Kingdom of Heaven. I got it a while ago but didn't really have that much of a desire to watch it until I had listened to the soundtrack a few times through while studying. I thought that it would be a good movie to watch after I finished up with most of my finals and wanted to be completely brain dead for a day or so before I had to hit the books again. It's got that epic feel to it, but I didn't expect too much from it, just a few good battle scenes, a little bit of dialog, and possibly a deeper meaning somewhere buried under the slashing sword fights that I could look back on later and muse about when I had more time. I started watching it after my Cell and Molecular Biology final, but only got about half way through because Keiko wanted to watch a movie with me and wasn't in the mood for an epic. So, I put the second half of it on my little computer and took it to school with me for a good late night study break.

Anyway, the story is basically about this man, Balian who finds out that he is the son of one of the more powerful knights in the Crusades who is also the Baron of Ibelin. Balian's wife had died from suicide after their son died at birth, and after being told he really was not wanted in the village any more by his brother, whom he killed out of grief and rage, he left to join his father in the kingdom of Jerusalem. On the way there, his father was injured by a group of men who had come after Balian to take him back to his town where he would be punished for his brother's murder. Balian, his father, and a few other men in their group escaped and made it to the Italian coast where they would be able to get on a ship for the kingdom of Jerusalem. However, before they are able to leave, Balian's father dies of infection from the wound he had suffered. Just before he dies, he calls in Balian, knights him, and makes him the new baron of Ibelin. The oath taken to become a knight was one of the things that stood out to me the most. "Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong." The thing is, these weren't just words to Balian. Throughout the rest of the movie, even when he was under extreme pressure to compromise in order to preserve himself or to make the king happy, he really lived out the oath which he had sworn. For him, Jerusalem was to be a "kingdom of conscience" or no kingdom. The other part of the movie that really stood out to me was when Balian, after the new king of Jerusalem had been captured, the majority of the army killed, and the city was about to be attacked, knighted every man capable of fighting. When asked if knighting a man would make him a better fighter, he sternly answered "YES" (I'll admit, I was watching that part really late at night in the middle of a study break, and in a peak of emotional-ness definitely had a few tears fall.) He could have just given a stirring speech--which he did--and left it at that, but he realized that people who believe in themselves and feel respected by those above them will fight more courageously than those who are fighting just because they have to.

Anyway, the kind of commitment that Balian had to the oath he had taken, the principles which he claimed to value, is something that I wish I saw more often. More than that, he really lived out this oath. That meant that he went out of his way to defend the helpless, even when there was a high likelihood of dying by doing so. He came from a rather humble, poor background, but didn't ever use that as an excuse and never abused his new position of power. Muslim, Jew, didn't matter to him; he saw people as people, and protecting people meant more than protecting (or fighting for) land.

I think that part of the problem today is that we don't really know what we believe in, what values we hold, what we stand for. We don't really have a sense of a calling or commission. We might have a vague idea, but not something that we've ever really put into words, definitely not something which we would swear to uphold at the risk of our lives. And what if we did, would we have the courage to actually live it out? I don't know.

There's a bunch of other stuff with the movie that I've been thinking about a lot, but I'm definitely not at a place in processing all of it that I can really explain well yet. I can say, though, that I think we, as Christians, are a lot like Balian. We come from meager backgrounds, but we have a very important Father. Once we accept that, we have a choice, either stay in our lives as we know them, or follow our Father, in our new identity. With that identity, however, there's a commitment to something holiness. We're able to fight impossible battles because that identity and commitment means more to us than our own lives.

That's just a i said, I haven't processed it all yet. I suggest you watch it for yourself though. Get the directors cut...the theatrical one leaves out some very important parts. Enjoy!!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy birthday to me!

I was a little skeptical of what my first birthday away from home was going to be like. After all, we don't really do much to celebrate at home anyway, and I wasn't really expecting much over here. And, when you think about it, I can't really take much credit for my birth, my parents should be the ones getting the party for a) conceiving me, and b) keeping me alive long enough to see 23.

Well, I was greeted this morning by 1 dead cockroach (which Keiko had valiantly slain the night before) and 2 that were yet to die but in that helpless position of surrender belly up to the ceiling. I guess their position, which was practically crying out "kill me", was the best birthday present they could muster, so my first act of the morning was stomping the guts out of the poor suckers.

School today was long and pretty stinking boring for the most part. Our international health module was great with this maverick-like doctor teaching us about disaster relief and how some students from MSIH tried to get involved in helping vaccinate kids in the Sudan during a meningitis outbreak (their plans were thwarted by the administration). The doctor teaching us treats everything like it's an epic story, and really knows how to keep a class on the edge of their seats, so that truly was an amazing part of the school day, but other than that, it was seriously one of the dullest days we've had in a while. And to make things better, Keiko, Deb and I have a 60-70 minute presentation to give tomorrow at 8:15 for a prompt which we received this afternoon, which meant straight to work immediately after class.

So, we head over to the Caroline house and get started researching our topic and finding good tables and graphics and whatnot, order some amazing pizza, and type, type, type away on our presentation. Then, around 8:30 or so Paul sneaks his hand around the corner and turns off all of the lights in our room. Then about half the class walks in carrying a cake, watermelon, cantaloupe, avocado, and ice cream, singing happy birthday. I was amazed at the number of people who showed up (I think on short notice). To make things even better, Priya bought me broccoli!!! (which is kinda hard to find here and a little expensive--it's funny how the little things really start to mean the most).

There were a bunch of other little things that really touched my heart today. I didn't really broadcast that my birthday was coming up. I'm not someone who wants a lot of attention directed at me, and I didn't want to go out and party or go out to some expensive place to eat, so there really wasn't much of a reason to make a big deal out of it. And yet still, almost everyone in my class knew and wished me happy birthday...not because someone announced it or because they heard someone else say it, but because they somehow found it out on their own (facebook does really help with that). Minsoo even called me this morning to wish me a happy birthday because he wasn't going to be in class in the morning and wanted to make sure that he got a chance to do it. I got emails or g-chat messages from other people who weren't in class. Noam offered to buy me whatever coffee I wanted (which ended up not happening because the machine was broken on our floor). I don't it just really came together for me that as much drama as their may be at times, at least from my perspective, our class really is a big family.

So, in the end, it was a great day. A baby cockroach even greeted me--in my room no less--when I got home (it too met its death). I guess somethings never change.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Finishing up basic sciences

Hey everyone!!

I've gotten a lot of messages about the lack of updates. Sorry! I've been working pretty much non-stop since I got back from Egypt, and aside from school there really hasn't been that much going on. I am, however, now done with the typical first year curriculum of basic medical sciences (hopefully...we haven't gotten all of the results from our finals back yet). Here we have pretty much a straight month of finals, which has its pluses and minuses. On the up side, you get, usually, 4 or so days between finals so you can really pack in some good study time before hand, but on the down side, it is a long stinking time to be shutting yourself away from the world to hull up in a room with just your books. Luckily this time around, there were quite a few of us using the same building for studying and I had a good hour or so break almost every day playing volleyball with Dan after we'd had enough of the books. We finished up with our last final on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, jumped straight into the systems based medical approach which we will be using for the next year of our studies. We're starting off with hematology, and it looks promising. The way it works is that you learn pretty much everything you can about the one system you're studying, then move onto another system until you cover the whole body. It seems like it should be a lot more comprehensive than what we've had so far.

Because we just finished up what most schools would call the first year (we still technically have one more system after hematology), pretty much everybody decided to get out of town for the weekend. One girl in my class, Lara, has a family vacation home up right above Tel Aviv and she kindly offered to host a party for the whole class on Thursday night. Problem was, we also had an AMSA (American medical student association) international potluck that night, which I had already agreed to cook food for. But, there were a few of us who would have to stay behind to go to the AMSA thing, and Susan had already decided that she would rent a car for the weekend to peruse around the countryside, and so a few of us could head up after the dinner was over and just make it to the party a little late--which is exactly what we did.

The party was fun...good BBQ and a lot of laughs, but the rest of the vacation was what really rocked! The first half of the day was spent driving back and forth between Tel Aviv, Hertzliyya, and Netanya, hanging out with 3 girls from my class and one of their Israeli friends. We got breakfast (at 2pm) at this amazing little cafe called Benedicts. It was an hour wait, but the food was amazing (this coming from someone who doesn't really like breakfast foods that much).

Yeah, great food huh? We had way, way, way too much for the table, but we made it work.

After that we wandered around Tel Aviv at the local artisan's street fair. There was a ton of cool stuff there and I definitely got some ideas for birthday presents for some of you guys back home.
:) Then it was back to Hertzliyya for Susan and I to pick up 2 of the guys in our class and then to head up to Caesarea. The original plan for the weekend had been to camp on the beach somewhere up there and check out some of the old ancient ruins from the time of the Crusades, but had pretty much no idea where stuff actually was or which beaches were really camp-able (I like to just role with the punches and am really not much for planning). Luckily for us, our friend from our class, Jared, who happened to be with us had an uncle up in Caesarea and was planning on going up there for the weekend anyway. He showed us around for a bit, then headed to his uncle's house, leaving Susan, Thomas, and me to wander around the old city of Caesarea where all of the ruins were and the few places where we could eat. We made it to the ruins just in time to watch the sun set, then found a great restaurant (the cheapest of the 4 in town) where we spent probably close to 3 hours talking and laughing and just having a genuinely good time.

After dinner, we drove around for a while just exploring the area, but couldn't find that much to do, so we headed off to try to find a good camping spot. We stopped randomly right outside of the national part where some more of the ruins were, and found a little pathway down a big cliff by the beach and after wandering a bit more found the ideal camping spot. There was this little patch of sand jutting out, surrounded by rocks. To make it even better, we found a little pathway up to the car that was a lot shorter--and safer--than the one we had taken down. We hauled 2 tents and our sleeping bags down to our newfound camping spot and as Susan and Thomas set up the tents I went off looking for firewood. At first I thought that we were going to be out of luck, at best having a fire that would last for about 10 minutes because there was pretty much no wood to be found. Then I happened upon a huge pile of wood--limbs, palm fronds, little logs--the perfect stuff for making a fire aside from being a little damp. I hauled some of it back and then Susan and Thomas came with me to bring enough for a fire that would last at least a few hours. Thomas started the fire and we sat around it, playing guitar and relaxing about 30 feet from the lapping waves. By the end of the night we had tried to pick out the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, O Holy Night, and a bunch of other completely random songs on the guitar. Finally at 4 in the morning we decided to call it a night and headed off to bed.

The next morning we woke up around 7 to some fishermen walking around our tents and some pretty extreme heat. We were all too exhausted to care though, so just unzipped our tent doors to let the breeze in and tried to block out the noise of the fishermen. Around 10 I finally couldn't really stand the heat so I got up and got to really take in the sites of the beach we'd picked in the middle of the night. I have to say, we did a pretty stinking good job! On either side of us there were ruins of the old city, and before us was some of the clearest, most beautiful water I have ever seen.

You can see some of the ruins in the distance

The view from our camping spot of the old aqueduct that runs along the whole city

I decided to take a dip in the water, and my goodness, it was amazing! Aside from somewhat sharp rocks on the bottom, there was really nothing to complain about. I swam around a little bit by myself, the Thomas woke up and came out with me. We ended up swimming out to some rocks a little further out, where we found a bunch of crabs, some little fish, a ton of shells, a star fish, and some cool little rock formations.

Needless to say, I didn't put on sunscreen, and so got a horrible sun burn that is still nice and red and tender. Once we came in from the ocean, we headed back to the same restaurant that we had dinner at and got lunch, and then played some paddle ball with a group of Muslim school girls visiting from Jerusalem.

Then we went over to Jared's uncle's house to hang out for a bit. They had a trampoline right next to the pool, built for the sole purpose of jumping into the pool. Thomas gave it a go, and the trampoline ended up breaking because there was a ladder stored under it that ripped through the fabric. We spent a little more time hanging out at the house, which had a gorgeous yard and great view

From there we headed up to a Druze town, Daliyat el-Carmel, where Jared claimed we could get the best falafel in all of Israel (and I have to admit, it was pretty good) and where there was a handmade fabric shop that Jared wanted to check out to possibly order some new covers for his couch. Once Keiko and I figure out for sure where we're living next year, I'm hoping to head back up there to get some furnishings for our place. After that we just drove around the city a little bit, went up to a monastery that was closed for the day and went on a couple of little hikes to check out the view of the surrounding area.

What a great weekend. Now we're back to classes, although we had today off and tomorrow as well for Shavuot (a Jewish holiday). On the agenda for next weekend (not this one) is horseback riding in the Negev desert. Good times!