Celebrate the sanctity of human life

Pardon Me

I’m sure many of you reading this have heard of or seen the film “Hotel Rwanda.” For many people, this might have been the first, perhaps even the only, time that they’ve encountered the 1994 Rwandan Genocide of Tutsi that claimed over 1 million lives in just short of 100 days. Unfortunately, this is one of the only widely seen films regarding the genocide. With such consistent unrest in various parts of Africa, more often than not the magnitude of the loss and impact of the event get lost in the mix.   This Monday, April 7 marked the 20th anniversary of the genocide. I have been privileged to witness the marked changes that have transpired over the past two decades by venturing to Rwanda for six weeks last summer.  This genocide is unique in that it is not one different ethnicity or religion attempting to destroy another. The Rwandan genocide is one that individuals of any race, ethnicity, religion and gender can benefit studying and, more importantly, remembering the fact that it was neighbors, friends and family members of the same race and background, citizens of the same country and members of the same communities, turning on one another. While I was in Rwanda, I was able to speak with many survivors of the genocide-beautiful, graceful and brave individuals who lost their parents, children, and spouses to a European-influenced war between ethnic tribes that were determined by the Belgian colonizers as a means of determining the ruling and working classes. And these people were not bitter. They did not dwell on the loss. There were no fostered feelings of resentment toward those who broke their hearts and homes and changed the courses of their lives forever. They told us that the first steps to healing often involved forgiveness and acceptance, realizing that the country would never be able to unite if the Tutsis and Hutus didn’t again live amongst each other in attempted harmony. This anniversary means so much more than two decades of healing for Rwandans; it’s more than just reminiscing on where the family members they lost would be in their lives if they were still with them, if they were twenty years older and twenty years wiser. It’s living proof that a people were able, or at least are dedicated to trying, to overcome. It’s testimony to the impenetrable nature of the human spirit to let go, to push forward, to see that a new day is always around the corner. And I think it’s our moral duty to not just pay homage to the lives lost and the progress made on April 7, but to do and be better to each other and to ourselves, to live as the Rwandans have learned to do and now do every day for the good of their country. I can’t imagine having to live in the same village, maybe even in the next house over, from the man who revealed the whereabouts of my parents to the rebel group often involved in the most brutal and inhumane killings, called the Interahamwe. I can’t fathom having to sit in church across the aisle from full families of Hutus, at best with a father in prison for crimes against humanity but for the most part with every family member present as I carry a wound on my heart for each member of my Tutsi family that I lost. But they do it each day. And we have to take their immense inner strength and model our own after it. When you feel like judging someone else for a way they are different than you, I ask you to think of the scenes I’ve described, of having to look at deceit and malice straight in the eye and forego any reciprocal act. I implore you to choose to take the high road, to “kill with kindness.” You might think that comparing your situation to one associated with genocide seems outlandish, but we can take such a grave situation and filter it down into our own lives. By doing so, we could preserve the sanctity that is our distinctiveness as human beings. After years of using the identification cards that discerned whether someone was going into hiding or instructed to kill, the election of Paul Kagame as president post-genocide brought new cards; my Rwandan friend Gaelle’s identity card makes no distinction about what tribe she is a member of. Instead, it shows her face and the flag of Rwanda in the background, the only identifier she truly needs. “We’re just Rwandan,” she said in virtually impeccable English with a smile and a shrug. “We’re all Rwandan.”