The Power of Loss

Richard's Rwanda girls meet FAWE girls

Yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the beginning of the Genocide in Rwanda. Olivia has been involved in Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE since she was 11 years old and last summer visited Rwanda to meet the girls that they have been helping, an incredibly powerful experience for her. Last night they held their annual memorial event and invited Father Jean Baptiste Ganza to speak. He was attending school in the Congo at the time of the genocide and later came home to find his entire family of 8 siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins had been killed. He is in Seattle now finishing an MBA so he can take his new knowledge back to Rwanda and use it to build micro businesses in some of the rural areas where young girls are often the heads of the households and where poverty is rampant.

He talked about his anger at God for allowing such atrocities to happen and then how he had to eventually reconcile himself to the fact that it took too much energy to stay angry, energy that could be used to a more positive end. He got involved in the church as a minister and had to listen to confessions from both Tutsies and Hutus, something he found infinitely difficult until he realized that the perpetrators of the killings were in just as much pain as the victims.

He explained how it took him a long time to get over the shame he felt for not being in Rwanda to help his family, something I call “survivor’s guilt” and how it was another priest who made him realize that perhaps he had been away at that time in order to fulfill a higher purpose, to help people understand thier own higher purposes, and to teach the need for forgiveness.

After his talk, the kids came around to each table and in small groups we discussed what it meant to forgive. Our group talked about the the idea that forgiveness was really a process, that it was very difficult to simply forgive in one tiny instant, though conceded that that was possible. For most of us, wrapping our brains around forgiving something larger than a friend who annoys us, forgiving something like a genocide or a 9/11 is very difficult.

In the news this week they are talking about putting the perpetrators of the 9/11 plot up on trial in Guantanamo. I was asked how I felt about this and I really didn’t have an answer. The truth is, I feel nothing about it. I see those people as having to suffer their own fates, having to live with the blood of so many people on their hands, in their souls. If anything I feel sorry for them, something Ganza too was surprised to discover he began feeling towards the Hutu’s whose confessions he was hearing.

After the talk, they raffled off a couple of my books which I signed for the winners and Ganza came up to me.

“I read the back of your book, and your story is compelling,” he said. I recognized the glint in his eye, that one you get when you meet a kindred spirit, when you meet someone who really gets it. I am sure I had the same glint in my eye. We made plans to meet again.

One of the questions that Ganza was asked after talking about how Rwanda didn’t have a Nelson Mandela or a Reverend Tutu to fill the shoes of a moral leader in Rwanda, was “How about you?” Ganza smiled. “If I am called by God, I will fulfill that role,” he said. The person who asked the question said, “I think you already have.”

The power of loss continues to astound me.



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  1. Shafeen Charania April 8, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    So… What’s the difference between forgiveness and acceptance?

    1. Abigail - Site Author April 12, 2011 at 9:59 pm

      Well there’s a hard question. I think acceptance has to do with a process of experiencing a change of attitude towards something unlikeable that you cannot change.

      Forgiveness has much more to do with emotions and is more about relinquishing those painful emotions around something that you may or may not be able to change and no longer demanding punishment for the offense.

      Something like that…

  2. Belinda April 11, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    What an incredibly rich post. Olivia, I presume, is your daughter? What a wonderful experience it must’ve been for her to visit Rwanda.

    The kind of loss that went on (and still goes on) in thatpart of the world is so hard to grasp for those of us who live so comfortably here in the U.S. I do some work with Eve Ensler and you may have heard that she helped build a safehouse in the DRC called City of Joy. What those women go through — the kind of loss and betrayal, often by their own husbands, brothers and sons. It’s a challenge to grasp conceptually let alone experientially. And to your point, the power of loss, if one survives it, is staggering.

    1. Abigail - Site Author April 12, 2011 at 11:00 pm

      Hi Belinda, Thanks for your comment. Yes Olivia is my daughter and Rwanda was certainly a pretty incredible experience for her.

      I’m going to look up City of Joy, as I haven’t heard of it. Sounds like some intense work they do.

      Thanks for sharing.

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