A story from Courage Does Not Always Roar.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
It took a young woman's experience from halfway around the world to help me move past the anger I felt after my parents' accident. In the book Left to Tell,Immaculee Illibagiza tells the most heart-wrenching story of courage. Growing up in a small village in Rwanda with her parents and her three brothers, Immaculee was just entering college in 1994, when the genocide of the Tutsis occurred.
When Hutu rebels took over the government, Immaculee witnessed some of the most horrible crimes-some committed by men who were friends of her family. At this time, Immaculee was separated from her parents and brothers. She was saved by a local minister who hid her and seven other women in his bathroom for 91 days. The women could not leave and could barely move. They were occasionally fed scraps from the trash because the minister didn't want any of the household staff to become suspicious and turn him into the Hutus for hiding Tutsis.
Immaculee prayed constantly to save her and her family from this horrible terror. She would often hear friends outside the bathroom window talking about killing all Tutsi cockroaches and saying terrible things about her own family.
Immaculee focused on getting out of the situation alive and she began to develop a vision for the future. While still hidden at the minister's house, she realized that she would need to learn English. A goal began to form: she wanted to work for the United Nations in order to help others and prevent this tragedy from ever happening again. Immaculee asked the minister if he had any books in English. Her days were filled with praying and learning English, all while guns were firing and bloodshed happened all around her.
Finally after 91 days, the French army came to the minister's house and released the women, but their journey was not over. The women were so weak and malnourished from being cramped in such a small space for months that they could barely walk. They were transferred to a safe French camp and then transported in the back of a truck to the next safe zone. The truck only made it half-way to their destination. In the heart of the Hutu rebels, the women were told they had to get out and walk two miles to the next safe camp. They thought they were doomed-that they had made it this far only to be killed by the rebels. But Immaculee had a plan, and she knew with confidence that it was not her time to die.
Miraculously, they made it to safety and Immaculee was given a second chance to continue her education and live her life. She discovered that only one of her brothers survived; the rest of her family was brutally murdered. Immaculee went on to fulfill her dream ... and more. She graduated, moved to the U.S., got a job with the U.N., married a wonderful man and has two children.
Years later, she had the opportunity to return to her Rwandan hometown. She traveled to the place where her family home had been burnt and wept at the loss and devastation that genocide had caused not only her family, but her country. While she was there, she wanted to visit the prison where the murderer of her mom and brother was being kept.
The officer brought a prisoner in to see her, an older man in handcuffs-the man who had brutally murdered her mother and brother and who was looking to kill her as well. Immaculee was surprised to find the man was once a successful and handsome Hutu businessman whose kids she had played with in primary school. Now, he was a disheveled limping old man who could not look at her in the face. The officer told her she could do or say whatever she wanted to this man. Immaculee felt an overwhelming return of the anger and hatred that she lived with for so many years. But, her faith in God and humanity gave her the freedom to move beyond the anger. She looked the man straight in the eyes and with great courage told him, "I forgive you." The man was shocked and so was the officer who immediately removed him and asked Immaculee, "How could you ever forgive this man?"
In forgiving her worst enemy, Immaculee focused on the loving spirit that she found in her faith and in others, rather than on hatred and anger. She is a role model and source of inspiration for me. After my parents' accident, I felt extremely angry and wanted the man who hit them to not only go to jail, but also to be punished for the rest of his life. I became obsessed with seeking revenge. Some days I was so angry, I wished someone would just provoke an argument with me so I could unleash all my pent-up anger on them. I felt lost, depressed and angry at God for letting all of this happen to my family and me. I knew I had to find a different path-one that allowed me to move forward, forgive and find happiness in the present moment and in the journey I shared with my Mother. I just didn't know how.
After finding a counselor, I started to read some self-help books. One that had a great impact on me was Why Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Kushner. After reading the book, I was able to better understand my relationship with God as well as my struggles with my own personal experience. I knew that I could no longer let this horrible experience identify me. With a new perspective, I learned to move past my anger in order to follow my bigger purpose on earth.
I cannot imagine anyone going through more than Immaculee Illibagiza. Her story is one of hope and inspiration, of perseverance and courage. Just as Immaculee so eloquently tells in her story, God had another plan for me as well.