This week marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.
Twenty years ago I was preparing to graduate from high school. I’m ashamed to say that 20 years ago I knew nothing of what was taking place on the other side of the world. I was 18 and selfish, entitled, and self-centered. If it wasn’t happening to me directly, it may have been happening on Neptune for all I cared. My world was consumed with my boyfriend, preparing for college, wondering how I was going to survive at college without my boyfriend, going to Sonic with my friends, making out with my boyfriend, thinking I was the shit, watching TV with my boyfriend, wondering what clothes to take to college, riding around in my new car…with my boyfriend.
It was all. about. me.
I never really even understood the magnitude of what happened in Rwanda until watched Hotel Rwanda many years later. Even then I had a hard time understanding how something like this could have happened right under my nose. Because, things like genocide were reserved for the Holocaust, and we weren’t ever going to let anything like that happen again. But it did.
This week The New York Times posted an article called Portraits of Reconciliation. It is a collection of photographs and stories of victims and perpetrators of the genocide who are granting and receiving forgiveness and reconciliation. Here’s the part that stops me in my tracks…the victims are granting forgiveness and finding ways to live and work alongside those who wounded them so deeply.
“If I am not stubborn, life moves forward. When someone comes close to you without hatred, although horrible things happened, you welcome him and grant what he is looking for from you. Forgiveness equals mercy.”
I couldn’t help but think about the people who I know who are broken. Broken because they have been hurt by someone they loved. Hurt so badly that they don’t feel worthy of love, have a difficult time giving love freely or both. Broken because they did the hurting and don’t know how to ask for forgiveness. They are ashamed of what they have done and no longer feel worthy of love and have forgotten how to show love.
So often we allow the hurt to define us. We cling to it so tightly we wouldn’t really know how to act or be without it. Pain and shame become a metal of honor; too precious to let go. So precious we mount it in a shadow box and hang it by the front door of our heart. When someone gets too close we can show them our pain. See this? This pain is who I am.
Then along comes something like what happened in Rwanda and we think; surely there is no forgiveness for them in this lifetime.
Our pain is safe. If someone is hurt so deeply that the very fiber of their being is altered how can we expect them to forgive? We give them a pass and in so doing give ourselves a pass. Maybe, just maybe, we could forgive; but we could never forget. Forgetting would mean we have to move on, we would have to take down that medal of honor and throw it away. If we can’t dwell on our pain, then who would we be? What would we become?
Then something crazy happens. Those who were hurt beyond repair…forgive. And not just forgive but seek reconciliation. Reconciliation is forgetting part of the equation. Not just forgetting, but moving forward. They may never be the same again, but are seeking ways to fill the empty void with something other than pain. The amazing thing is this goes for both sides.
All that being said; if the people of Rwanda can seek and grant forgiveness and reconciliation…why not us? What makes our pain so much more severe and precious that we won’t let it go? This is not to belittle someone’s suffering but to shine new light on it. Look at it though new lenses so that possibly we can allow it to turn to ash and be blown away.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.”