Picture me, an overachiever, a little fat girl in her third year of college, not yet able to purchase alcohol legally but two courses away from a Bachelor’s degree in Social Science (which is what happens when you study languages, history, political science, economics, psychology, and geography).
Watch me read ninety-seven books and forty-three journal articles on the genocides in Rwanda, Rhodesia, and Yugoslavia, along with the (edited) transcripts of the Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, which was tasked in letting victims of apartheid, both black and white, speak of the horrors they’d seen.
Twice that semester, I put down my reading, got off my comfy couch (the same couch that had been in my parents’ house for ten years previous, the couch that screamed comfort and home to a child far from those related by blood), and went to the bathroom to throw up.
I wrote a forty-page thesis comparing the post-regime retaliations of the four countries, and attempted to explain how South Africa, while it had its violence, did not devolve into mass slaughter due to the work of the Reconciliation Commission. My African History teacher, one of my advisors on the project, thought it was so compelling that he offered to help me edit and prepare it for publication, which as we all know is the first step to a career in research and higher education.
I declined. Despite the fact my career goals at that time were for tenure, I coundn’t bear to spend more thought on such horrors.
(Sometime in that time frame, I’m not sure if it was before, during, or after, a compatriot and I came to the conclusion that no serious student of history could come out of their studies without a severe case of pacifisim. More on that later.)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu paid a visit to my cow college a scant seven weeks after my thesis was turned in. My little college in the middle of nowhere had many illustrious guests; during my tenure +Tutu was one of five Nobel Peace Prize winners to speak in our 940 seat auditorium. +Tutu was a small creature, no more than six inches tall, in cassock and purple sash from where I sat in the cheap-ish student price seats.
I don’t remember much of the Archbishop’s lecture. I have a nortoriously bad memory (which is one of the reasons I blog). I do remember one bit specifically. Someone from the audience, someone who wasn’t me, I didn’t have the guts, asked during the Q&A session about how +Tutu would approach race relations in the United States. I can quote the first part of his reply by memory:
When people came from other countries to South Africa to give us advice on how to better understand our situation, I hated it. Because who knew better our situation than those of us who’d been living it?
Then, he paused for effect, and I swear, from the Cheap Seats, I saw a twinke in his eye…
And now, having said that…
He clutched his tummy, stomped his feet, and danced (danced! he was stomping!) across the stage, laughing at his own joke.
I had read what he had to sit and listen to, stories that still wake me up in the night in sweating nightmares. He’d seen these people, listened to the instigators, conspirators, and victims from across a table. How many he gave the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I cannot imagine. That doesn’t figure into history texts.
The little man who danced across the stage, doubled over in laugher, is oft reported as a somber, ecclisastical figure in several of those ninety-seven books and forty-three journal articles.
I’ve seen different. I’ve seen that we can, no matter what horrors we’ve been through, no matter what we’ve seen or heard about the horrors of other’s lives, we can still have great joy.
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people in all the earth.