I just finished reading a novel written by Immaculee Ilibagza, a Rwandan woman who had hidden, had been hunted, and survived the Rwandan genocide of the 1990’s.
Despite the absolute atrocities, of which this book leaves out very few details, the book is not a devastating one. It is not a horrible story. It is a story about love, about hope, about faith, and at its absolute core, about forgiveness.
Immaculee herself had seen and heard terrible things during the months she was kept in hiding. Squished into a tiny, hidden bathroom of a Pastor’s house with almost 10 other women they lived on tiny morsels of food scraps and remained seated on the cold, hard floor, without space to move, for weeks on end. She heard stories of her parents’ merciless slaughter and of the torment and shame her brother was put to before he was also killed. She went through absolute hell, seeing the mountains of bodies and being hunted herself; not by strangers, but by neighbours and old friends, all because of a history of racial tension between 2 tribes of Rwanda. It didn’t take much propaganda to convince the Hutu majority that Tutsis were to be killed. That no man, woman or child Tutsi was to be left alive and any Hutu who refused to accept the Government delivered guns and machetes were to be labelled as “moderate” and killed as well. Media propaganda and lies were all it took to turn a previously peaceful nation into a war zone, and friends and neighbours into blood-thirsty killers.
In the time Immaculee, a Tutsi, spent in hiding, and then in the French refugee camps set up in Rwanda, she handed herself over to God; to prayer, and realised that she could not live with the surging hatred and a will for blood and vengeance in her heart. Whether she lived through the war or not, she learnt she could not survive unless she learnt to forgive.
Reading Immaculee’s story made me think very deeply about human nature. Never having considered myself religious, I still completely understood this book. It holds such a core theme surrounding God and Catholicism yet I never once felt sceptical, or distanced from Immaculee’s belief. Wherever Imaculee talks about God and about prayer, I found it natural to substitute her belief of God for my belief in humanity, of positivity and the power we all have to achieve our dreams and goals. She says in the novel:
“I was living proof of the power of prayer and positive thinking, which really are almost the same thing. God is the source of all positive energy, and prayer is the best way to tap into His power.”
Now while I don’t necessarily believe in God, I do believe in the power of positive thinking; not in the visualise a parking space and there you shall find it kind of way a lot of self help books preach us which many take the mickey out of, but in the aspirational sense; In the positive nature of love and hope; In the power of dreaming, and the fact that anyone can achieve great things, if they have the dream and the belief they can achieve it. So, whenever Imaculee was talking about God, and about prayer, my mind naturally converted her belief in God to my belief in humanity, and in the power we all have to achieve our dreams and goals. Like Imaculee says in the quote above, at the heart of it I honestly believe they are essentially the same message and belief, simply wrapped up in different packaging.
Immaculee achieved great things. Not only did she survive against impossible odds, but she saved those with her as well. She taught herself English whilst trapped in that bathroom, she got her dream job at the United Nations in Rwanda following the war, she returned to her village to mourn for her lost parents and brothers, burying them and grieving with her remaining relatives and friends, she met the man of her dreams, and she eventually escaped Rwanda to America, where she became a mother to two beautiful children. Imaculee thanks God for providing her with her strength and faith, and for setting her on the right path, but she also believes it was her responsibility to walk that path. Religious or not, we all have hopes and dreams, and we all have the ability to achieve them. Horrible things happen, and we have to acknowledge our situations. We all long to love and feel happiness, often we will (and should) feel sadness, and occasionally we will feel anger, but we always have the choice to melt the anger away. It’s not easy, but this is the one thing Imaculee achieved which surpasses all others, and which I honestly believe is what would rid the world of the troubles it faces everyday.Forgiveness.
Anger and vengeance is a never ending cycle. It traps those caught in it and never lets them go. It consumes them, and infiltrates their minds and their hearts. The only way to end the cycle, is to forgive. To forgive others for what they have done, and to hope that they realise their wrongs and find a better path. I don’t believe this means befriending everyone who has wronged you again, far from it; but you can forgive them. Rid yourself of your bitterness towards them and you can truly let them go, and let yourself free in the process. Think of Jesus, think of Ghandi, think of Mother Theresa. These leaders and many others which go down in the history of different faiths and cultures, all believed in stopping the cycle of hatred, with forgiveness and with love.
I believe in the power of humanity. I believe at heart we are all good. Sometimes people just lose their track and need someone to show them the right path. For one person that role could belong to their God, to another, it could be a stranger, or a friend who points them in the right direction, and for others, it could be nature, a book, or simply the mysterious workings of the universe. Whatever you believe, believe in hope, believe in the good in others and learn to forgive.
Imaculee’s closing words touched me more than any others in the book, so I decided I will close with them as well…
The love of a single heart can make a world of difference. I believe we can heal our world by healing one heart at a time.
I hope my story helped.
Image courtesy of Antonis Kyrou