Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I strongly recommend Tracy Kidder's newest book The Strength of What Remains, the extraordinary story, amazingly told, of Gratias Deo, a farm boy and medical student from Burundi who survived and is thriving and doing important work in his life today. Ambushed by a genocidal attack at his medical school, he fled physically on bleeding feet, in the very shadow of the machetes and the percussion of gunshot, near starvation, in terror, not caring emotionally whether he lived or died.. He believed with good reason that most of his family was dead. He fled from a medical school where tutsi (his ethnic group) were murdered before his eyes, and was able to survive with help from unexpected acquaintance and strangers, to escape from war torn Burundi, Rwanda, Burundi again, and finally to survive penniless and without English in New York City. He was able to eventually thrive again. This is the strongest story of the personal impact of genocide I've read in a long time - maybe since The Diary of Ann Frank. More than that, it is the strongest story I've ever read about the ability of an admittedly remarkable individual to break the bonds of post traumatic stress syndrome, even in the most extreme circumstances. The profession of psychology didn't help him at all, but he followed his story enough times with witnessing and found a way, through Paul Farmer's Partners in Health, to convert the energy of his suffering into service for people suffering direly. That process of healing is available to all of us who suffer trauma, no matter how extreme. Eli Weisel is another example in my pantheon, of one who made a similar journey from terror, rage, helplessness, to service. Deo believes it is not possible to make the promise "Never Again" which Jews and Rwandans made after being victims of genocide as long as structural violence exists in the world, as long as some groups live in hopelessness of poverty - where life is cheap, and others have so much. I believe him, though I don't know the answer.

I have a poem on the topic though


Questionable Thirst

We, plump and privileged
claim we thirst for justice,
truth, righteousness,
knowledge, hope, peace.

Given the prevalence of
poverty, persecution, war,
intolerance, starvation, deceit,
We tolerate thirst damn well.