Sunday, February 04, 2007

Could You Forgive?

Imagine living for 91 days, cramped into a 4' X 3' bathroom with five other people. You have no access to food beyond the scraps that are snuck to you during the night. You cannot leave, because it would mean being brutally attacked, raped, killed. People are looking for you. You know that they have likely already killed your family, that you are probably the only one left.

Along with a million other Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Immaculée Ilibagiza's parents and brothers were killed by the Interahamwe during the Rwandan genocide as the rest of the world looked on - much as it looks on today at the crisis in Darfur, a removed, faceless crisis in a far away land. This is one of the reasons why it is important to read books such as Ilibagiza's. The put a face to events, making them about individuals rather than Tutsis, Jews, Indians, etc. In the tradition of Anne Frank, Władysław Szpilman, and other holocaust survivors, Ilibagiza has written a memoir that personalizes what could be (yet should never be) only a horrible, but distant story.

Remarkably, Ilibagiza's autobiography is not only a record of recent historical events (1994 is not so long ago...), but also a story of forgiveness. After losing her parents and all but one brother, Immaculée was able to forgive the perpetrators of her people's genocidal nightmare. As a reader in a spoiled country where some people have a hard time forgiving people who cut ahead of them in the popcorn line at the movies, this resonates as pretty astounding. At the same time, it is also beautiful. If one who has suffered as this woman did can look into the eyes of her tormentors and still see there a child of God, surely there is hope that we all can forgive those whose tresspasses against us.

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