Serendipity (part 4)

essay, non-fiction No Comments »

Immaculee Ilibagiza: Thank you. Thank you everybody. Thank you for your kind welcome. I know my story is a sad story, but it has been a story that gave me experience of great spiritual growth and different understanding of how what really matters in life. So I am really grateful for what happened and what I’ve learned from that experience. When I met Wayne, [she is speaking to Wayne Dyer here] thank you so much for giving me this chance to share my story, I read his [Wayne Dyer’s] books and I listened to his tapes, I kept asking myself why someone like this wasn’t in my country before the genocide because it was all we needed for people not to think about the killing. So what I mean is, I hope you know what gift you have to have people like him teaching what he teaches.

Like he told you, I was on Easter vacation, home and we heard that the president died. My parents and my brothers who loved me very much, I was their only daughter. They insisted that I go to hide with a Hutu neighbor they trusted. I went to him and told him what my parents told me. He took me to the bathroom in his bedroom and I found there seven other women. We were eight. The space was a little smaller than this table. We sat there and were told not to say a word, not to make a noise, because if anyone knows we are there, they would call the killers. He told us he won’t even tell his own children. We were happy for his generosity. All day long we were listening to a radio which was next door in his room. All the news was talking about was how to kill Tutsis. They say to kill children, not to forget the women, old people, that they had to cleanse the country. That was said by the new president who had just taken over. The ministers, the whole country was just going crazy. They killed in public places, even in churches and then they started to say on the radio, encouraging all the Hutus to go to each house and search to see if there is any Tutsis hiding.

Then they came to our home. I looked surprised. I remember I was stretching and I saw through a curtain of a small window. I saw outside like three hundred people. I fell down. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t talk. They started searching. I had the rosary that my father had given me when we were separated. I just started to pray. I couldn’t remember for a minute any words really, in my mouth. I was so scared. I could not even tell you how much you feel when you have to experience something like that when you know people are five inches away looking for you, and if they find you, they will kill you. They searched everywhere in the house, in the ceiling, in the top of the house, in every room, they went under the beds. They opened every suit case, saying that maybe babies are hiding there. I was so scared.

I was talking to God. That was my only refuge. I begged him to save me. There was no choice. I didn’t want to die . . . I kept saying that if you say that if we ask, You will give. This is the one thing I am asking you in the world. Please make it happen that they don’t find us . . . I was really praying so hard. I remember, and I don’t really know if this was my imagination or my mind, but it was almost like a vision. I saw Jesus standing with us and heard Jesus say, ‘I know you are praying so hard. Don’t worry. I will put a cross in front of the door. And no one will ever come across.’ I saw the cross. It was almost like I was helping Him put the cross on the door. I stood out of my body and I was feeling like a spirit, and pushed the cross on the door. I was happy. I knew that we were protected. And after that I could see the cross. It was a cross of light . . . There was just a light. I was happy and a few hours later, the killers left. The only room they didn’t search: it was that bathroom. The pastor came back two hours later and said that they would come back many times. We didn’t know when they would come back. It was so painful to wait, because we heard them singing all day long outside. And any time they passed by, we thought they were coming for us. I heard so many voices in my mind, so many bad thoughts of how I was going to die. That was the only pictures that were going through my mind. How they were going to rape me, how they were going to cut my hands and my head. Just the thoughts were so heavy, so poisonous to my body without anyone touching me, and I was asking God I just wish these thoughts can stop, but I couldn’t help it.

That was the moment I think I heard an angel make a suggestion to me. It was the best decision I ever took in my life. I told myself, maybe if I pray every minute of my life of the day, these thoughts might be able to shut down. It was such good idea. I told myself: okay, I’m going to do it. As soon as I got up, I used my rosary to say my prayers and meditate on the bible on the life of Jesus. As soon as I get up in the morning, I started to pray. I would pray from like 6 in the morning until 10 o’clock at night, to the minute I fall asleep. The next day, I did the same thing. It was so good. I was able to spend a day without having these thoughts that were burning my body. And then as I was praying, every prayer talked about love. Every prayer talked about forgiveness. I knew in my heart, there was no way I can forgive these people who are killing me. I hated them. I wanted them to go to hell. I was thinking that maybe they killed my mother. And I thought, I hope God agrees with me. I mean it was a good reason not to love them, not to pray for them. Any time I reach this part of the prayer, and for those who don’t know the rosary, on one rosary you say seven Our Lord’s prayer. And any time I reach this part, ‘Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ the first days it was okay. The next day I feel like I’m lying to God. I wish I could take this part out of the prayer. But yet it is God who say this prayer. It must be true.

So, one time I was really feeling like a liar, I sat there and I told God. ‘Look, I cannot pray for these people, but maybe help me out. I just want to be so sincere with you because I want your favor so much. That minute I surrendered everything. I give God all my thoughts, everything. Control me. Tell me what to do. I was praying one time, meditating, and I remembered the words Jesus said on the cross when He said, ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they do.’ It was almost like I never heard those words before. It was so powerful. It was so clear to me that they cannot possibly know what they are causing. In that minute, I forgave them. We spent three months in that bathroom. We came out when the Tutsis liberals who have been in exile for thirty years, captured the country. And then we were able to come out. When we came out, I found out that everyone in my family was dead, my mom, my dad, my brothers, my neighbor Tutsis, my school mates. The whole country was dead bodies all over. I thought it was almost maybe the end of the world. Or the beginning, but one thing was real.

The forgiveness I’ve experienced, the love I got in the bathroom about God was so real, it was a gift that helped me relieve the pain of losing my parents. I am so grateful. I found out I was always the one concerning people. I even went to the prison to visit the killer of my parents. I wanted to find out how I would feel. As I saw him suffering, sitting down, a man who was respected. I really did feel compassion. I couldn’t believe that sin could bring somebody in a situation like that. If he couldn’t think of it himself, if he couldn’t love himself, to protect himself from coming into that situation, how can he think of me? How can he think of not hurting me? I knew for sure that he couldn’t know what he was doing. And I forgave him. My life today, all I want to do, all my thoughts, my decisions, I just want them to be based on love, on what God would do in my place if it was Him because I know as humans we make mistakes, and we can really make big mistakes. I hope and I think with forgiveness and love, unconditional love we can accomplish peace on earth. As Anne Frank said, the Jewish girl who was in hiding just like me, I really still believe that human beings I wouldn’t hurt and I hope we all help each other, pray for each other more than hating each other. Thank you for listening. Thank you. Thank you.

What a beautiful soul. What an example of life, love, mystery. By the time Immaculee reached the point in the story where she met the killer of her family and knew that he knew not what he had done, I was not ashamed of my anger and disappointment and antipathy toward my family, but moreover, I was gifted with an epiphany: It was in my power to find relief from the gnawing sensations of such negativity. The spiritual energy in that room was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I’ve never felt like I felt during the time this woman spoke. Never.

For the next ten minutes or so, Wayne Dyer spoke about the power of spirit and faith and the fact that that was the only reason Immaculee survived. She came back to the stage for few additional minutes and talked about how she had learned the English language while she was hiding in that bathroom from a French-English dictionary that had been left on the back of the toilet before the room had became a hide-a-away. Immaculee now lives on Long Island with her husband and two children. She works at the United Nations and will be speaking for the next year on the power of faith and forgiveness.

Just before closing the lecture, Wayne Dyer briefly mentioned that one of his eight children has suffered a great deal from drug addiction and that while she is doing well now, and in recovery, he would have approached that issue differently today. It was an odd aside because it didn’t fit with anything else he was saying. He even said that he didn’t know why he’d brought it up. Then he added he would stay for a while after the lecture to sign books. I looked over to my fiancé and my daughter. “No way,” I said. It was late and we were all exhausted and had a full schedule the next day. Quietly, we walked back to our room. I was still in awe and didn’t have much to say. I was trying to process the experience. My daughter asked me if I was okay. All I could say, “right now I’m overwhelmed.”

Once in the room, I made a visit to the bathroom. When I came out, I picked up my purse, Wayne Dyer’s children’s book I’d bought earlier and looked at my daughter and fiancé who had made themselves comfortable. “We have to go back,” I said. They both looked at me as though I lost my last remaining marble. “Let’s go before everyone is gone,” I insisted. “Something is telling me we need to go back and get our books signed.” While it is nice to have books signed, it is not my modus operandi to do so. We all headed back to the ballroom.

We returned to the lecture hall where about forty people remained. Twenty or so were gathered around Wayne Dyer, ten were huddled around Immaculee Ilabagiza, and the others seemed to be people who worked for the conference. We stood in line and listened to people praise Wayne Dyer for all of his contributions to helping people with spirituality and watched as he signed the books. Mary, my daughter, is generally quite shy, but when Dr. Dyer made eye contact with her, she immediately said, “I know what your daughter went through. I’m a recovering drug addict.” I had a knee jerk reaction of being choked up. I was very proud of her. Dr. Dyer looked at her with such kindness and said, “That’s why I said that bit about my daughter. I said it for you. I couldn’t understand why I brought it up. How long have you been clean?” Mary told him four months. He asked my daughter if he could hug her, which he did, and he kissed her—for a time she swore she was never washing her cheek. He then told her she now had a job to do, to tell others of her experience, and spent several minutes asking her questions. He did sign our books, and my fiancé took a picture of my daughter and me with him. We thanked him and began to leave.

rosaryI turned to my daughter and fiancé and said that I had to speak to Immaculee, that I needed to touch her, to hold her. I had no book for her to sign. We got in line to see her. I had no idea what I could possibly say to this woman. When it was my turn, I approached Immaculee and asked her if I could hug her. She opened her arms and we held each other. I said the only words I could utter: “Bless you.” She said, “You are so kind to me.” Then, a friend of Immaculee’s suggested to Immaculee that she might want to say/teach the rosary in the morning. I almost fell over. That’s why my computer bag made it to the conference. It wasn’t for the computer which didn’t work. It was for the rosary sitting in the bottom of the bag. I told Immaculee I would definitely be interested in saying the rosary with her. She thanked me and told me she would see me in the morning. What was happening to me? All of these “coincidences,” which coincidentally I don’t believe in, were occurring in such an orchestrated fashion that I knew I was in the mystery and part of something very extraordinary and sacred.

conclusion tomorrow

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Serendipity (part 3)

essay, non-fiction 2 Comments »

On the morning of November 10, we stood in the baggage security area at the Denver airport. With my shoes going through the x-ray machine and my feet freezing, a guard asked me to empty the contents of my computer bag. While I was removing the computer and other miscellany, I noticed something sparkly in the bottom of the bag. It was a blue crystal rosary—origin unknown. It is true that I was raised Catholic, and am still very grounded in the Catholic Church. The rosary for me has always been reserved for wakes and funerals, and as a matter of habit, I never carry one. I repacked my computer case and didn’t give the rosary another thought.

We arrived in Scottsdale, Arizona later that afternoon. My daughter, my fiancé, and I checked into the Doubletree hotel, dined outside by the pool, and then returned to our room. My daughter and fiancé settled into a movie, and I unpacked my computer, turned it on and prepared to let the energy of the spiritual conference guide my writing. The computer turned on, but that’s all it did. After nearly an hour of exercising the opposite side of my brain, trying everything to cause the computer to operate, I surrendered and put the computer away. My thought: I wished I’d turned it on at home because had I known it still wasn’t functional, I certainly wouldn’t have bothered lugging it with me.

The next day was the day of pre-conferences. I had signed up for one, but my fiancé had not. My daughter wasn’t registered at all. I told them they’d have to bond and bask by the pool while I was raising my energies with John Holland, another inspirational speaker. At lunch break, I returned to the room and my daughter was sitting on the bed wearing a conference badge around her neck. Honestly, my first thought was that she had stolen it. She explained to me that my fiancé had taken her to the registration desk for the conference and asked about the possibility of signing her up. The woman behind the desk told them they were sold out and on top of that there was a very long waiting list. They small-chatted for the next minute or so and during this time the computer beeped at the woman behind the desk. There had been a cancellation. She looked around, “Nobody will know you weren’t on the list.” With that, she sold the ticket to my fiancé and signed my daughter up for a weekend of seminars. My daughter was ecstatic.

After a full schedule of conferences the following day, and the three of us floating around on spiritual highs, we had dinner in the room and then headed to the main ballroom with 1600 others to hear Wayne Dyer speak. Within a few minutes of him being on stage, he asked if there were any teenagers in the room. Naturally, I elbowed my daughter into coming forward, where he gave her and four or five other teenagers copies of 10 Secrets to Success and Inner Peace. She returned to her seat and was elated, “I can’t believe I touched Wayne Dyer.”

Then Dr. Dyer began speaking about the 1994 Rwandan genocide—a wholly unexpected topic on my part—I was fully prepared to hear him speak on all the things I knew he had addressed in his books and on his CDs. At first, I quit listening. I was trying to figure out why I didn’t recall this event. I realized that this was when I was pregnant and had lost my son’s twin. My pregnancy was shaky at best, and I was consumed with continuing to carry my son. I tuned back into the story and the deeper Dr. Dyer delved into the story—I have no adequate words to relay the experience which ensued—the more I felt enveloped in a cocoon of mystery. It was physical, emotional, soulful—very “other” to any experience I’ve ever had before. And little did I know, that this was just the beginning. Along with many in the audience that night, I wept as I listened to Dr. Dyer speak. I felt his passion, absorbed his compassion. Because this lecture is so powerful, and the content such a critical part of this overall story, I include excerpts of it here:

Wayne Dyer: Back in1994 on the 6th of April, the president of a country in Africa called Rwanda, was in an airplane, and the airplane crashed to the ground. The president was a Hutu. The country is divided into Hutus and Tutsis. Ninety percent of the country is Hutu and 10 percent is Tutsis—it’s a racial divide. On the radio the Hutus begin announcing and blaming the Tutsis for this plane crash and the killing of the president of Rwanda. They encouraged something that began a genocide, one of the ugliest things that has happened in the past twenty years, perhaps the last 1000 years. On the 7th of April in 1994, every Hutu over the age of 14, was issued a machete which had already been shipped in crates and was available . . . it turns out [Dyer had evidence from the UN and has read it thoroughly], that all of this was done prior to [the plane crash] in preparation to do this killing that was to take place over the next ninety-one days.

The Hutus later went on the air and took responsibility for this plane crash. The machetes were issued. The spears were issued. And for the next ninety-one days in a country the size of the state of Maryland, with ten million people, the banks closed, all of the grocery stores closed, the schools closed and, the business for the next ninety days was killing. Women, babies, grandmothers— if you were married to a Tutsis, you were to kill your wife and your children and if you didn’t, you would be killed, hacked to death. The encouragement was broadcast over the radio every hour on the hour. It was going on in the most hateful kind of description you could ever imagine and after ninety days, one million people, think of this now, and when you think of 9/11 and three thousand people dying, when you think of the tsunami, or the hurricane in Louisiana, a million people were slaughtered. Every dog in Rwanda had to be killed in July of 1994 because they had been doing nothing but eating human body parts for the previous ninety days.

In the midst of this horror there was this young woman, named Immaculee, who was in college, 200 miles away from her village. She called her father, and her father persuaded her to come home for Easter vacation. She didn’t want to go. She insisted that she not go because she had too much to do at school. Her father insisted she must come home. She took the long bus ride home. Now, traveling 200 miles in Rwanda is not the same thing as traveling 200 miles here in the United States. She got there on the 7th of April when the killing began and all the Tutsis began to head for the borders, and as they headed for the borders, massive numbers of Hutus were just out there hacking people to death. This was going on eleven years ago in our lives. And we knew it was going on. Not only did we know it was going on here, but in Europe they knew it was going on. Almost nothing was done, in fact nothing was done until ninety days went by and the French came in ultimately, and president Clinton called it the greatest failure of his administration that they didn’t go in and do something—not that it was anyone’s fault in this country or anywhere else. The killing was taking place.

Immaculee was told by her father that she had to go into hiding. She went to a pastor’s home and they had a little bathroom in the home about three feet by four feet. Immaculee and seven other women were put into this bathroom and hidden behind a clothes valet for the next 91 days. She was not allowed to say one word, not to say anything. The pastor had ten children and didn’t tell any of them that they were hidden in this bathroom. The same clothes she was wearing in April, she was wearing in July. No one bathed. No one spoke a word. She went in weighing about 120 pounds at five foot nine, and came out weighing sixty-five pounds. In that time she was hunted by Hutus with machetes that she could see five inches from her and they never found this bathroom. There had been two to three hundred people searching this room over these 91 days and they never found her. She survived by something called faith that is beyond anything I had ever heard about. She has written a book about it called: Left to Tell, How I found God in the midst of the Rwandan genocide.

[Wayne Dyer begins to read from Immaculee’s book.] “I heard the killers call my name. They were on the other side of the wall. Less than an inch of plaster and wood separated us. Their voices were cold, hard, and determined. ‘She’s here. We know she’s here somewhere. Find Immaculee,’ they were saying. There were many voices and many killers. I could see them in my mind, my former friends and neighbors who had always greeted with me love and kindness, now moved through the house carrying spears and machetes. ‘I’ve killed 399 in cockroaches, and Immaculee will make 400. It’s a good number to kill.’ A coward in our tiny bathroom, huddled in a corner, without moving a muscle, like the seven other women hiding for their lives with me, I held my breath so the killers wouldn’t hear me breathing. Their voices clawed at my flesh. I felt like I was lying on a bed of burning coals, like I’d been set on fire, a sweeping wind of pain had engulfed my body, a thousand invisible needles were ripping into me. I never dreamed fear could cause such agonizing physical pain. I tried to swallow, but my throat closed up. I had no saliva. My mouth was dryer than sand. I closed my eyes and tried to make myself disappear, but their voices just grew louder. I knew they would have no mercy. My mind echoed with only one thought: If they catch me, they will kill me. They were just outside the door and any second they would find me. I wondered what it was going to feel like when the machetes slashed through my skin and cut deep into my bones. I thought of my brothers and my dear parents, wondering if they were dead or alive, and if we would soon be together in heaven. I clasped my hands together, clasped my father’s rosary in them and began to pray, oh please God, please God, please help me, please don’t let me die like this, not like this. Don’t let these killers do this. You said in the bible that if we ask we will receive, well, God, I’m asking. Please make these killers go away. Please don’t let me die in this bathroom, please. Please God, please. The killers moved from the house and we all began to breathe again. They were gone, but they would be back, many times over the next three months. I believed God had spared my life but I’d learn over the next 91 days, as I hid trembling in fear, with seven women in a 3 foot by 5 foot bathroom that being spared is much different than being saved. But I did learn it and it was a lesson that has forever changed me. A lesson that in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those that who hated and hunted me and how to forgive those that slaughtered my family. My name is Immaculee Ilabagiza, and this is the story of how I discovered God during one of history’s bloodiest genocides.” Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Immaculee Ilibagiza to the stage.


illaTears streaked my face. My mouth dropped as the mystery grew. This very beautiful woman came to the stage. I couldn’t believe she was standing before me, and all I could think about was the line about how she learned to forgive those that slaughtered her family and that it made me feel that if she could forgive and not harbor anger about an issue of this magnitude, I needed to forgive my family—in essence, I had nothing to complain about. The mystery encircled me deeper into its folds.

part 4 tomorrow
nannette

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