Wednesday, March 15, 2006

180. fear, hope, faith

I've been sick so I haven't been walking during my lunch breaks which means I've had time to read my at-work book, Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza (see blog 177).

A few nits to pick before I get to what I want to get at.

The writing is far too polite. She doesn't paint a vivid picture of the horrors and so you have to strain a bit to put yourself in her shoes. And that's difficult from the perspective of a sheltered American life.

Now on to what I wanted to talk/think/write about.

There's a bit where Immaculee is hiding in the cramped bathroom in a Pastor's house along with six other women. At one point, a killing squad surrounds this Pastor's house because they believe that he's hiding Tutsis (the ethnic group they're trying to massacre). Immaculee peeps out the window to see what's going on and what shocks her isn't the fact that there are hundreds of crazed, bloodthirsty men outside, it's the fact that these people are her neighbors, people she knows by name.

Because it's one thing to die at the hands of a stranger. Because that stranger must be evil and misled and crazed. But for death to come at the hand of your neighbor, someone you've had dinner with, someone you played in the streets with, someone you wave to on your way to work - that's simply unacceptable.

Here's how she describes it:

Hundreds of people surrounded the house, many of whom were dressed like devils, wearing skirts of tree bark and shirts of dried banana leaves, and some even had goat horns strapped onto their heads. Despite their demonic costumes, their faces were easily recognizable, and there was murder in their eyes.

They whooped and hollered. They jumped about, waving spears, machetes, and knives in the air. They chanted a chilling song of genocide while doing a dance of death: "Kill them, kill them, kill them all; kill them big and kill them small! Kill the old and kill the young . . . a baby snake is still a snake, kill it, too, let hone escape! Kill them, kill them, kill them all."

It wasn't the soldiers who were chanting, nor was it the trained militiamen who had been tormenting us for days. No, these were my neighbors, people I'd grown up and gone to school with - some had even been to our house for dinner.

I spotted Kananga, a young man I'd known since childhood. He was a high school dropout my dad had tried to help straighten out. I saw Philip, a young man who'd been too shy to look anyone in the eye, but who now seemed completely at home in this group of killers. At the front of the pack I could make out two schoolteachers who were friends of [my brother] Damascene. I recognized dozens of Mataba's most prominent citizens in the mob, all of whom were in a killing frenzy, ranting and screaming for Tutsi blood. the killers leading the group pushed their way into the pastor's house, and suddenly the chanting was coming from all directions.

I can't remember what the name of the game was, but I remember the commercial. There's a bit at the end where a lady is taking money out of an ATM. She puts the money into her purse and then someone runs up and rips her purse from her hands. The lady starts to scream and while screaming, her face melts into this grody demon-faced thing. And the voiceover says something like, "civilization is only skin deep." (Okay, I googled it and it's from the game Primal.)

I thought about that commercial when I read the scene quoted above. And although that sounds like something that only happens in third world nations, something that could never happen here, I wonder.

I don't know much about economics (and even that is a gross understatement), but I do know that there are policy makers who use mind-twisting algorithms to build economic models that lead to shady back room deals (that I imagine involves a bit of secret handshaking). These people are involved with the tricky business of maintaining the value of the dollar.

And I have no idea how they do that and I only have the vaguest notion of what "the value of the dollar" really means, but I do know that it involves some really tough choices in a very uncertain arena. I also know that if these people make the wrong decision on some key global-economic issue, it could cause the value of the dollar to plummet and that means items on McDonald's Value menu could go for $100 instead of $1.

Think that's science fiction? Ask someone who's lived through the Great Depression.

And so I go back to the story of Immaculee and her neighbors. That's the bit that scares the hell out of me - that her would-be killers were her neighbors. Think that couldn't happen here? I think it would be far easier than we suspect.

I think of news reports from a couple years ago about people fighting one another at department stores to get a Tickle Me Elmo doll. And from last year, I remember this story about shoppers who were climbing over one another to get their hands on discounted laptops. Now imagine that instead of clamoring for a toy or a computer, people were fighting to get their hands on the last can of food on the shelf or the last bag of rice. And it's easy to say that will never happen, but ask someone who used to live in New Orleans.

Okay, I'm going to stop now. Shit, I'm even starting to scare myself. And I don't mean to paint such a bleak, apocalyptic view of the future, but it kind of goes to the question I asked in my last blog (blog 179): what good is Christianity? It would be nice to have a compelling answer to that question if the shit ever does start to hit the fan in a really bad way.

But it's not all doom and gloom. I think of September 11th, 2001. I think of the way the nation pulled together and how amazing it felt to be an American. I think of how New York pulled together. And I mentioned the Great Depression. It was a dark period that gave birth to some amazing stories of strength and inspiration - think of the movies, The Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe and Seabiscuit starring Tobey Maguire. And America is still here.

Fear and hope. Seems hard to choose between the two sometimes. But here's where faith offers a third, more holistic option. Yes, there's reason to believe that a series of economic missteps could lead to a worldwide meltdown of the economy (fear). And yes, chances are that adequate safeguards are in place to keep something like that from happening (hope). But ours is not a world limited to the material (faith). God is the ultimate safeguard and his concern is not with petty economic issues, his concern is with our heart and our soul and our mind.

And so I can sleep in peace at night whether in my comfortable bed in America or in a crowded, secret room in Rwanda with death squads kicking the doors down.

1 comment:

'Tart said...

Mr. Lone Tomato,
I sent you a frantic post because I came to my site to find your profile, previous posts, etc. obliterating my entire sideboard along with other bizarre problems. There is a 'snapshot' of it at the 'One Woman's Journey' blog in case you are not aware of it. I would imagine that it would scare and upset any blogger to find their site messed with and I am only going to hope that it was done by someone else or some unnamable computer problem. Anyhow, I was shocked and terrified and my previous post to you reflected that. I leave this post to explain.