At the end of a meeting last Monday, I found myself crawling to my car, and then to the hospital, because I could neither walk nor stand. This disintegration of my ability to stand or walk began about six weeks earlier. I had been playing golf at Chambers Bay, in Tacoma, Washington. The occasion was the annual general meeting of the American Friends of St. Michaels University School, the entity in the US that provides an avenue for our American alumni and families to support the school, financially or otherwise. It is a dedicated and selfless group who make sure all our legal i’s are dotted; the consolation prize for their hours of diligence and commitment is a dinner and a round of golf (at their own expense) with the Head of School. I know: not much of a consolation, except they do get to laugh at the Head in some of his less glorious golfing moments.
Chambers Bay will be the site of the 2015 US Open. It is a “links” course, which (for the uninitiated) means that it imitates those treeless and treacherously duned courses that make up about 90% of the Scottish countryside. One innocuous pine tree clings to the edge of this course, kind of like a comma striving to grow into an exclamation mark. It will be the longest US Open in history, at over 8,000 yards. Even though we didn’t play from those back tees, the course was still enough of a challenge that I managed to herniate a disc and pinch a nerve as I went around, my imagination dispensing wisdom to Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson on club selection and course management.
The consolation of a hospital emergency ward is that if you are in one then you are probably better off than you had been an hour earlier. Otherwise everyone there is cocooned inside their own husk, desensitized to everything except the glare of lights, the whisper of shuffled paper, and the wheeling of stretchers. In more than one way I was fortunate: my unspeakable and self-centred agony was relieved and humanized by the fact that the doctor who looked after me was a former School parent who had sent three kids to the school, and another doctor I saw across the busy ward has kids in the school right now, and one of the nurses who looked after me had graduated from the school, in the class of my son, Graham.
I wasn’t the only one in an emergency ward. In the Swat Valley in the northern tribal area of Pakistan, twenty-four thousand kilometres away, a fourteen year old girl, Malala Yousafzai, was fighting for her life after being shot in the neck and head by a group of Taliban militia sent to assassinate her. They intercepted her in the company of some girlfriends on their way home from writing an exam at school. Since the age of eleven she had been writing a blog that was widely read, articulating the power and beauty of educating girls – the Taliban had banned the education of girls.
The father of Malala is a poet and a Head of a private school in the Swat Valley, and he had encouraged her in her blogging. Sitting around talking with her girlfriends she had once said she aspired to be a doctor; he apparently was more interested in her political activism, and liked her to stay up talking with him after her brothers had gone to bed.
Malala is now in stable condition. Her life is separated from ours by a gulf, but it is worth acknowledging that she and we are part of each other’s world. There are ways in which her life refreshes our hopes and ideals, and ways in which we can strive to return that gesture.
The team of Taliban assassins were hoping that in killing her they would kill this idea. Such is the power of education, and such is the power of the education of girls. Vivat.