A few weeks back, I saw a news story about Rwanda that struck a chord with me. This afternoon, I quickly did some research to learn a bit more and that chord is now humming a decent little symphony. Rwanda, the same country that experienced one of the most horrific mass genocides in modern day history, is practicing the art of forgiveness. And as we take stock of our souls and find peace of mind at the end of each day, we need to pay close attention to what this remarkable African country is trying to undertake.
In 1994, over 1 million men, women and children were killed in Rwanda. Today, there are over 800,000 suspects waiting trial for these deaths. Its mind boggling really. Firstly, how could any country handle such devastation and pain, and now face such an administrative nightmare as they struggle to bring these suspects to trial? Well, they have begun a pilot program where these suspects are brought to trial in Gacaca courts. From what I have researched, these courts are simply held in an open area of a small village (gacaca means “on the grass”). Community members gather, there is a judge and maybe a table and a chair or two. And the suspect faces the families affected and fellow peers as he is tried for his crime. If he has been found guilty and then apologizes, he is very often free to go. The slate is cleared, healing begins and the community can move forward. Granted, this is a pilot program and not everyone is able to forgive readily. But its a start. A very amazing start.
Reading about these courts makes me think long and hard about forgiveness and finding peace. Angry grudges are so insidious and damaging to our souls. The smallest peice of steely resentment will sit in our heart and rot it out. I have seen it happen and the seemingly irreparable damage that has resulted. Its exhausting, it ages people, it breaks hearts, families and communities.
However, forgiveness is no easy task. It takes risk, trust and an open heart in spite of its wounds. It means rendering yourself equal to your counterpart and releasing whatever weight of right or wrong has gripped your being for however many days, months or years. Yikes. Very scary. I mean, c’mon, can you imagine finding it in your heart to forgive the man who killed 5 of your children? Impossible. I am sure, even in the Gacaca courts, the process has not been an entirely smooth one. But trying to forgive – rather than succumb to more hate or possibly more death – is my point. I am in total awe and consider this pilot program something for the world to look at very very closely.
On a different level, it also makes me consider, once again, life in Africa compared to life here in the U.S. What a beautiful thing to bring a community together on a grassy field to work out this process of trial, apology and forgiveness. Can you imagine that happening here? Ha! Yeah right! Our world is so bogged down in rules, regulations, laws, order and the rest. But of course, of course – our laws do protect us. Yes, I know our life expectancy is longer, our lifestyle is so much easier, and our rights here are endless, comparatively. Yes, we are extraordinarily lucky and I appreciate my country. But life in Africa is something to be experienced, let me tell you. Time is a shifty concept (Have you ever heard of “Africa time”? Basically, don’t rush, get there when you get there) and the world is a wild thing. Rules are relaxed to say the least. Goods are traded, music is loud, livestock is everywhere, children play without shoes, things get dirty, food is good and made at the side of the road, stories are rich and laughter is plentiful. And the freedom of forgiveness can be found in a grassy field.
A few minutes ago, my husband wandered in here and I reminded him about this story. I asked him if he could forgive his neighbor for the deaths of our children during a community meeting. Nope. No way. But he wondered what choice he would have. He also didn’t seem convinced this was such an easy thing, perhaps over-simplified, and would it really bring peace and resolution?
But allow me to bring up another example. When reading about Rwanda, I can’t help but think about my father right now. He is in Vietnam, Hanoi specifically (northern Vietnam). Again, this country, like ours, suffered immeasurable loss during the Vietnam war. And he wasn’t sure what to expect from the people he would be meeting with and working along side. He had experienced Vietnam 35 years prior and wouldn’t blame any resentment that might come his way at all. On the contrary, he was met with an interesting sense of “brotherhood”, and a feeling of “we went through this together”. Those that he has met ask him questions about his experiences, they seem to compare notes about it all and nod together with understanding. The Vietnam people he has met seem truly past the anger that would be expected even all these years later. Forgiveness – it happens.
So, this post has gone on long enough. We need a bottom line here. I may come across a little idealistic and you may conjure up an image of me as an aging peace loving 60s guru-type, but who cares. Here it goes. Let go of anger, seek out peace in your heart and dig deep inside you to forgive. When you can, if you can, where you can. A grassy field seems to work well…
The transcript of a radio broadcast worth reading on the Gacaca Court topic: