Note: This is not a rainbow and cotton candy post.
I sat in church listening to Fr. JG, a charismatic African-American priest, preach about the genocide in Rwanda. His influence as a spiritual leader attracted visitors from surrounding counties eager to soak in his wisdom and holiness. His booming voice and magnetic preaching style packed the building, week after week, with devotees starved for enlightenment and inspiration. In the tradition of other fearless liberation theologians, his passion for meaningful involvement obliterated the line between church and state. Strong words were hurled at the U.S. Government’s inaction. Lives are more important than political correctness.
In his most impassioned speech, Fr. JG appealed to his congregation to open their hearts to our African sisters and brothers. He implored everyone to support an event designed to raise awareness of the horrors in Rwanda. Alas, not even this gifted preacher’s passionate words could bridge the physical and experiential distance separating Rwanda from our proverbial couch. Apathy kept the masses glued to our mundane reality of privilege-laden daily life. The large venue was far from half full. Compassion without action is nothing more than wasted emotion.
I walked the grounds of a holocaust museum in Israel, jarred by the horrors of historic proportions humans wield at our hands. Shaken by the lack of human bond their generation and the international community displayed that allowed such blatant atrocities to happen, I consoled myself with the thought that, at least, I was not complicit. It was decades before my time. Guilt could not touch me then.
I stood before mass graves at the Kigali Memorial Centre, feeling the eerie silence of 250,000 skeletons. I read the biographies of the little children whose lives ended much too soon. One boy, five years old, the same age as my son, loved riding a bicycle. His favorite food included chips, meat and eggs. His best friend was his sister. He was described as a quiet, well-behaved boy. He would have been 23 this year.
I entered the doors of Ntarama Catholic church outside of Kigali. Its red brick walls inside were lined with clothing of fading colors belonging to about 5000 people who sought refuge here. I stared at skulls and an assortment of tibia, femur and humerus bones with mounting discomfort, knowing I was very much embroiled in the saga of my own life as these people were losing theirs.
Does this seem too much to share? If so, it is a minor inconvenience to endure, knowing we have been blessed with geographic luck. By sharing this experience, I hope to remember the lives that were lost in our common not-too-distant past and to honor the survivors spared by genocide as well as those still being affected by its residual effects today.
Some truths are concealed, dressed up, toned down, blown out of proportion or sworn to secrecy. Other truths hack like a machete.
If the cutting pain that naked truth brings has the power to reinstill our human bond back to our present condition as a human race, then I will take the latter. Because, ultimately, I believe we’d all rather feel than not. We’d rather care than not. We’d rather hurt then hope for healing than pretend there’s no pain in living. When we embrace our nature as feeling, caring, hurting, hoping-for-healing human beings, perhaps we will see just how much of the earth, the moon, the stars, the sky we share with one another. And maybe then, we will have gained a stronger human bond that won’t ever again allow us to fail a whole nation, a whole race.