What have I learned so far?

I remember when I was a very young child, every summer my family vacationed at the beach and visited a friend of my father’s who lived there. He was a fisherman delivering seafood for the local restaurants. And as soon as he saw me, he would ask the same question he had asked every summer: “Hey kid, tell me, what did you learn in the school this year?”

Knowing deep in my heart that I was probably not an ideal student and at that very moment I would much rather jump into the ocean with my friends than discuss my grades with this man, I haphazardly listed a few of my achievements just to satisfy his quest. I would say that I learned how to multiply all the numbers from one to 10. And that in my geography class I learned that the Empire State Building was the highest one in the world and that salt is one of the most essential minerals in our human bodies. The old man usually would be very impressed by the summation of my academic accomplishments and with a gentle pat on my shoulder he would tell me to never stop learning. 

And now, so many years after those summers, that old man’s annual review of my studies has somehow become a  personal custom, where I will occasionally pause and ask myself, “Hey, what did I learn so far?” And often, it has given me a sense of pride and made me feel good about myself.  Until this year!

It appears that for all the things I have learned through long decades about rules of life in general, the social, ideological and historical knowledge I have gained doesn’t even come close to what I have learned in the last two short years. What I learned in these two years has turned everything I thought I knew on its head. And ironically, in that I am now at an age when I am supposed to act like a mature person with tested experience, able to evaluate the current situation and put the day’s events in perspective, I am instead confused, shaken and honestly have no clue how to address this new norm that has become our reality.  

One recent evening, as I was watching “The Birds,” a classic movie by Alfred Hitchcock, I had the unusual feeling of associating the events in the movie to our current socio-political life. I thought about how brilliantly and instinctively Hitchcock was able to portray a situation where a normally harmless species, for reasons unexplained, had become bloodthirsty invaders who were willing to do anything to hurt and destroy others without any sense or reason.

As I was so immersed in the dramatic events of the movie, I could not speculate who or what those vicious birds might be symbolizing in the movie or in our current life. Were they representing the other political party? Or  those whose lifestyles are not tolerable to another group? Although I was watching the movie without taking sides, I was horrified by the perspective of living in a society where one group, in this case the “birds,” not only had no patience to make any effort to modify their behavior but were determined to cause pain and obliterate others. 

Fortunately, movies have a mesmerizing way to end their stories where at some point a resolution is offered, where one side (good) wins and the other (bad) loses. But as I have learned in these last two years, we are now just in the beginning of a long journey: a journey of many trials and tribulations, infused with distrust, confusion and bad blood.

Sorry for being so pessimistic. But the fact is, even if the current historical phase we are experiencing somehow fades away, the disagreements, controversies and bickerings that we thought were ancient history now suddenly seem re-energized. One can only hope that just like in the movies, through a magical special effect, our current uncertainties will dissolve into a happy ending. How I wish life were more like a movie!

Meanwhile, knowing that it could now happen only in a dream, if that old fisherman ever asked me again about what I have  learned this year, I would simply respond by saying, “Sir, I learned nothing and I know nothing, and to tell you the truth, I will be more than willing to go back to school and start from scratch and perhaps learn new ways to make a difference.” 

Who knows? Maybe others will follow me.


The writer is a graphic designer, Photoshop artist, cartoonist, information technology and wine expert. He can be reached at varoujanfroundjian@gmail.com.