In a packed international schedule, our diarist Anthea Kreston squeezes in time to see students – and their mothers.
The taxi picked me up a moment ago – it is 5:45 AM – this week I have been to Brussels twice, now I head to Geneva and will also have played in Cologne, Berlin and Munich before I write my diary again. In-between these concerts, some of my quartet colleagues go directly to the next destination, but I always opt to go home, if at all possible, to even spend an afternoon or portion of the day with my family. Yesterday was such a day – arriving home the night before, after midnight, from two days teaching at the Queen Elizabeth Chapel in Brussels (where the Queen Elizabeth competitions are held, as well as a flourishing year-round residential program for top soloists and chamber groups). I snuggled with my daughters – to even have those moments to share sleep, to hear their little breaths coming in and out, shifting and resettling after I climb in – this is worth the extra effort to come home. It was Thanksgiving – how could I not come back?
We spent the morning lazily, going shopping and peering in on the progress of our local Christmas Market (built upon a long blocks-worth of wooden platforms – including an ice rink, train, multi-story wooden cabins, mulled wine and trinket shoppes). We got ingredients for our meal, and I left directly for some teaching and meetings at the Universität der Künste, where I am still agog at walking the same hallways as the Schumanns or teaching in the Carl Fleisch Hall.
My mother is here for these weeks – I am gone much more than I am here – to help with the day-to-day ins and outs. Our daughters played a little concert for us before dinner – when I got back from work, they were in the kitchen with grandma in their new aprons – making a cake. Next to our place settings, each of us had a card from our older daughter, with drawings and things she was thankful for. They had made a centerpiece of colored papers surrounding votive candles. It did feel like Thanksgiving- so far from our home, friends and family – we have made a nest for ourselves here – slowly and with many missteps and small victories.
After dinner, I had promised one of my old Corvallis students a FaceTime lesson – as the call was answered, the familiar faces of his parents were in the screen as my student wandered in, yawning in his pajamas. They were in the midst of preparing a meal for 30 guests – a lovely Persian family who became close friends during our time in Oregon.
After our lesson, I asked my student if I could talk to his mom for a moment. Calling into the kitchen in Farsi, his mom came in, wiping hands on her apron. She and I spoke for some time – things have not been easy recently here for us, and I was eager for a sympathetic ear, some advice or understanding. So many of our friends and students have made a similar move to ours – coming to America with suitcases and children in hand, to make a new life in a foreign land and with little knowledge of the culture or language. And yet, through fits and starts, we all flourish.
She listened, resisted offering advice – just explored options and solutions with me. By the end of the conversation, we were both crying a little, and gave each other a hug over the computer. I read this week about a scientific research project on happiness and wellbeing. There was one simple question that caught my eye – it was – “is there anyone in your life you would feel comfortable calling at 4 AM to talk about a problem”? If there is, your life expectancy is greater. I thought of this person, expecting 30 guests in a matter of minutes, who took the time to listen, to connect. And I can think of a handful of people who I would be able to talk to this way. I do, indeed, have a lot to be thankful for.