Jamie Jenkins: I Want to Understand


Yo-Yo Ma is one of the most famous musicians in the world. He was born in Paris in 1955. His father was "more or less Buddhist" and his mother was Protestant. He grew up as an Episcopalian.

At a young age Ma began studying violin, and later viola, before settling on the cello in 1960 at age four. His first choice was the double bass but due to its large size (eight or nine feet), he compromised and took up cello instead.

The child prodigy began performing before audiences at age five and performed for Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy when he was seven. He has played as a soloist with many major orchestras. His 75 albums have received fifteen Grammy Awards. In addition to his numerous Grammys, Yo-Yo Ma has received the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the 2014 Fred Rogers Legacy Award, of which he said, "This is perhaps the greatest honor I've ever received."

Ma's primary performance instrument is a Montagnana cello built in 1733. The cello was nicknamed by a female student who approached him after one of his classes in Salt Lake City asking if he had a nickname for his cello. He said, "No, but if I play for you, will you name it?" She chose "Petunia," and it stuck. This cello, more than 280 years old and valued at $2.5 million, was lost in the fall of 1999 when Ma accidentally left the instrument in a taxicab in New York City. It was later recovered undamaged.

In a recent interview the world famous musician said that when he was about five years old he was asked, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" He replied, "I want to understand."

I suspect that at age five most children want to understand things like:

Why does he get two cookies and I get only one?

Why do I have to go to bed before she does?

Why can't I cross the street by myself?

From listening to Ma and from observing his musical career, it obvious that the desire to understand has not gone away but it has matured as he has aged and experienced life more fully.

On this date, September 11, I find it impossible not to think about that horrible day in 2001 when 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.

Reflecting on the horrendous events of 9/11 I echo Yo-Yo Ma's desire to understand. I want to understand the mind set that could lead to that tragedy... and others that are occurring today around the world and close at home.

I want to understand how anyone could think that violence solves anything. Whether it be in Iraq or Gaza or Ferguson, Missouri, or a casino elevator in Atlantic City. I want to understand more fully how love overcomes hate and light overcomes darkness. I want to understand so I can be an agent of peace in my home, my work, and my world.

From Jamie's blog, Thoughts for Thursday