There are times I life when exposure to greatness catches us in awe and we may not even realize the moment until it passes. When I met Rufina Amaya, I hung on every word she said. I never swayed from the conversation and the passing of those few moments has remained with me since.
Just yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to Paul Rusesabagina speak. He is the person that Hotel Rawanda is based on. He spoke about what it was like in Rawanda during that horrible time of genocide. He spoke of his own fears and his own reactions. And he talked about what is happening in Darfur now. How can genocide continue to happen? Did we not learn anything from Rawanda?
However, what struck me most about Paul is that he was so normal. If you didn’t know who he was, one might even say “average”. And really, that’s what he is. The son of a farmer, Paul is just a regular guy who listened to his heart and did something extraordinary. And despite the violence and oppression he has lived through, he still manages to have a certain hope about him.
Rufina also lived through the horrible reality of war and mass killing. She listened to the sound of her family being tortured and killed and she remained hidden so that she might tell the story one day. And even still, she had hope until the day she died (this past February).
I am struck by average people who have such conviction in their heart that they continue to tell a story of their life that the oppressors refuse to hear but struggle to silence on a daily basis. These “normal” people…campasinos, farmers, hotel workers…they are the prophets of our day. They are the ones we should be listening to because they have the experience that speaks to us without the need for words.
However, it was Paul who said last night, “I will never fight with a gun…I will fight with my best weapons…with words.”
The lives of great people have been spared so that they might speak out for those who died voiceless in the face of oppression. But as long as we turn away from the cries of injustice, we too muffle their words of hope, compassion and a real form of social justice.