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“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou –

Agreed. Humankind learns from history, the goal of which is to not repeat our errors and to form a better future than our past. And agreed. Not repeating history takes enormous courage and sacrifice, both political and personal. One may argue that it is a choice, made consciously to not repeat and relive what one deems unproductive and atrocious, a choice that one may unconsciously believe to be made independently with not divine intervention of time and its surroundings.

But history repeats itself. Hence, Winston Churchill famously said, “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” The current repetition is best described as a series of uprisings. Although the degree, form and purpose differ vastly across continents, an overlap exists: the “commoners” demand to be heard.

Post first World War Egypt was changing rapidly, particularly its social and economic settings. New industries were developing, a different capital flow was coming in, and most importantly, the commoners, who were mostly slaves in the past, were awakening to realize their enslaved hardships. Literacy rates were at an all-time high, and means of communication, although still sluggish, were rapidly improving, allowing information and ideas to flow freely throughout the country. This synergy created a seething bond, a nation, resulting in an uproar for individual freedom and democracy.

A century later, modern Egypt birthed another uproar. The story sounds eerily similar; freedom suppressed for decades by a dictator, improved communication webs enabling the free-flow of ideas, and most importantly, commoners realizing their depressed current states and doing something about it. This wildfire has spread with bushfire speed, and has engulfed Syria for the past fourteen months. Syria indeed is on the extreme end; thousands of civilians have lost their lives. However, the pattern of revolt is nothing new.

No literal bloodshed yet, but a similar pattern is detected in South Korea. A formidable potential candidate has emerged in the race for the Blue House. Dr. Ahn Chul Soo, currently a professor at Seoul National University and formerly the founder of Ahn Lab, the first company to create and distribute computer vaccines in Korea, is riding a tidal wave strong enough to shake the foundations of the political establishment. What is striking is that Dr. Ahn has no political experience to speak of, and that he has not even formally declared his candidacy. What he has done for the past decade is simple: connect. Whether or not his motives are genuine, Dr. Ahn has become the symbol for what the Korean commoners want in their president. Someone who embodies two-way communication, someone who is genuinely concerned for the well-being of the common, and not thrashed around by the current establishment dominated by wealthy conglomerates.

Freedom does not endure. Fantasize all you want, but history does not lie. A once-successful uproar brings about a period of liberties, and the commoners thrive and rejoice. That period is almost always followed by a dictator, albeit in different forms and figures. The commoners are subdued once more, until another spark ignites the courage and necessity to realize and fulfill one’s destined freedom.

“Life is a whore. Whatever you do, you always get screwed.”

So said my seventh-grade clarinet teacher. Traumatic? Yes, to a docile pupil with virgin ears and no real life experiences to speak of, traumatic and daunting.

Life is probably not a whore, and in many ways, one can find ways to not get screwed at everything one does. But life is a grind. One would love to sit here on a gloomy Wednesday morning and write about a vacation in St. Barts, or peer through lush photos of delicious eateries at the hottest grub joints in town and around the world. Both are great things, but 98% of the time, either life clutches your balls or you clutch his. It’s a struggle.

Some of us were not born to wealthy parents, some of us have no privileged backgrounds. Some of us had to work part-time gigs just to get through school, some of us gave up our own lunch money to feed our siblings. Some of us chowed down on ramen noodles before playing in junior-varsity basketball games, some of us gladly accepted a bucket of the Colonel’s best from a kind neighbor.

The mountain top never seems to come in sight. We climb hills with different slopes, some steeper than others. We carry different loads on our shoulders and backs, some heavier than others. We have family and friends climbing alongside us, maybe trailing us, some more than others.

There must have been a time when getting bread and water on the table was the mountain top. That achieved, one would think that there was no slope to climb, no hill to scale. But life for many of us is more than bread and water. If I’m spending twelve hours of my daily life doing something, those twelve hours beg for a cause, a cause worthy of the struggle, a cause plentifully worthy of the climb. Not all of us have such pleasures. In the end, yes, it is about bread and water. Still.

As Nikos Kazantzakis put it in his travel account of Cairo, “Nowhere on Earth have I felt such violent and sensual contact of life with death. The ancient Egyptians used to place a mummy in the center of their banquet halls in order to look upon death and sharpen their joyful awareness of the tiny flash of their own life.”

There lies a partial answer to this struggle. Twenty-somethings do not discuss death. We are, after all, in our minds, immortal, infallible beings. We take to our beds at night, assuming that we shall rise the following morning. The question is never “if” tomorrow comes, but always “when”. I dare say this naive frame of mind contributes mightily to our misfortune.

Life is most brilliant when standing side-by-side with death. The sooner one grasps the concept of death and the afterlife, the more meaningful and fulfilling our everyday lives will be. Seventy, eighty, ninety years is no eternity. Our struggles, our hills and mountains, are no eternity. Fleeting, at best. A time will come when we twenty-somethings will face our mortal ends. When that time comes, we shall hold our heads high and pronounce that our mountains have been conquered and that our struggles were worth the climb.

Think twice about clarinet lessons.

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