A New Year’s salute to amazing people not on any lists

I met Zhanna Dawson at her Atlanta home in April.

Today, we bid goodbye to 2012 and usher in a new year. It’s a time of cheer and remembrance.

We like lists. So we have the top 10s of everything from movies to gadgets to events. And there are lists of admirable people. Barack Obama was Time’s Man of the Year. Malala  Yousafzai topped other lists. As did Mohamed Morsy, the Egyptian president and Olympians who set records and won medals last summer in London.

Then there are all those people who perhaps made the news in remarkable moments and then faded to the background again. Their names are not on any Top 10 lists though it’s likely they went on in their acts of courage, brilliance and altruism.

There are countless people, of course, who deserve recognition. I am naming a few who I had the opportunity to write about in the last 12 months.

Dr. Kasem kept the Hippocratic Oath at a makeshift hospital in the besieged Syrian city of Al Quasyr. He knew every patient could be his last; that at any minute, a rocket could slam into the building at any moment. Instead, he kept moving the hospital from building to building and held steadfast to the medical oath he took that demands that he do all he can to save lives.

“If I will die when I help people, it is good for me,” he told CNN many months ago. “Because I am a doctor. I must help people, especially in this very catastrophic time. After the revolution, before the revolution, during the revolution, I will help people.”

I don’t have any way of knowing where Dr. Kasem is today. Whether he is even alive.

Back in February, I wrote about how the Tibetan New Year, Losar, was silent and dark in 2012. Tibetans decided to forgo festivities to honor all the monks and nuns who have self-immolated in protest of Chinese rule. Think about what that takes — to set yourself afire because of your love for homeland.

In the West, we seldom hear about what Chinese occupation is doing to Tibet, how an entire culture is eroding.

And I salute survivors of tragedy and trauma everywhere who  found ways to carry on living.

In 2012, I was lucky to have met Zhanna Arshanskaya Dawson, who survived the Holocaust in her native Ukraine by playing the piano for the Nazis.

She is in her mid-80s now, yet I was so taken by her verve for life. I could not stop listening to a recording of her playing Chopin. I could not stop hearing her stories of the war — how she felt when she played for survivors of Auschwitz.

She was was a triumph of spirit amid the worst of humanity.

Tonight, I will sip bubbly and make resolutions for the new year. And I will celebrate the lives of extraordinary people I have met and hope that their achievements always serve as a guide for my own aspirations.

One Reply to “A New Year’s salute to amazing people not on any lists”

  1. Moni:
    Thanks for covering the guys of the 48th and walking in their tracks as an embed. War brings destruction, death, heartache, but it has also brought great friendship.

    Robert Stokely


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