I hear the killers call my name. They were on the other side of the wall, and less than an inch of plaster and wood seperated us. Their voices were cold, hard, and determined. “She’s here…..we know she’s here somewhere….Find her – find Immaculee. There were many voices, many killers. I could see them in my mind; my former friends and neighbors who had always greeted me with love and kindness, moving through the house carrying spears and machetes and calling my name.
“I have killed 399 cockroaches,” said one of the killers, “Immacul’ee will make 400. Its a good number to kill.” I cowered in the corner of our tiny secret bathroom without moving a muscle. Like the seven other women hiding for their lives with me, I held my breath so that the killers wouldn’t hear me breathing.
Their voices clawed at my flesh. I felt as if I were lying on a bed of burning coals, like I’d been set on fire. A sweeping wind of pain engulfed my body; a thousand invisible needles ripped into me. I never dreamed that fear could cause such agonizing physical anguish.
I tried to swallow, but my throat closed up. I had no saliva, and my mouth was drier than sand. I closed my eyes and tried to make myself disappear, but their voices grew louder. I knew that they would show no mercy, and my mind ecoed with one thought: if they catch me, they will kill me, if they catch me, they will kill me, if they cvatch me, they will kill me….
The killers were just outside the door, and I knew that at any second they were going to find me. I wondered what it would feel like when the machete 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 put my hands together, clasped my father’s rosary, and silently began to pray: Oh, please, God, please help me. Don’t let me die like this, not like this. Don’t let these killers find me. You tell us in the Bible that if we ask, we shall receive…..well, God, I am asking. Please don’t let me die in this bathroom. Please, God, please, please, please save me! Save me!
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 believe that God had spared my life , but I’d learn during the 91 days I spent trembling in fear with seven others in a closet-sized bathroom that being spared is much different from being saved…and this lesson forever changed me. It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me – and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family.
My name is Immacul’ee Ilibagiza. This is the story of how I discovered God during one of history’s bloodiest holocausts.
Above is the Introduction to Immacul’ee’s gripping book, Left to Tell. It is Immacul’ee’s story of survival of the 1994 Rowandan holocaust. In her introduction she writes; “But I’d learn………that being spared is much different from being saved….and this lesson forever changed me.”
There is no space on earth for which we are totally responsible other than our own inner space. We alone are responsible for the thoughts we choose to harbor. She showed us that it is possible to be a loving being through all circumstances and our ability to do just that will determine whether we are “spared” or “saved.” What good is life just for life’s sake? Life without inner peace is hardly worth living and that inner peace is totally our responsibility. What kinds of things have happened to you for which you are willing to give up your inner peace? When you really contemplate your life you must realize that no one can ever do anything to you that can replace inner eace. And if that happens, you are allowing that event to become more important to you than your own inner peace. To be fully alive and happy we must be willing to let go of our petty grievences in favor of living in the space of love. Don’t ask for love….be love. And that is exactly what Immacul’ee did.
In the last chapter of Left to Tell, she tells of her return to Rowanda, and her visit to her old home where knelt by the graves of her mom and brother. She told them how she had survived and about her journey to the United States. She wept, but this time her tears were a release, not a sorrow. Then it was time to do what she had come to do.
She travelled to a prison and was greeted by Semana who had been a good friend of her father. He knew why she had come to see him. He himself had lost chilren to the genocide. “Do you want to meet the leader of the gang that killed your mother and brother?,” he asked. “Yes, sir, I do,” was her response. Semana went to the prison cell where a man called Felicien was being held. When she saw him, she recognized him as a successful businessman whose children had been Immacul’ee’s playmates in primary school. She remembered his voice as one of those who had hunted her. His dirty clothing hung from his emaciated frame in tatters. This man had once only dressed in the most expensive of clothing. His skin was now sallow, bruised and broken. Semana yelled at Felicien..”What do you have to say to her? What do you have to say to Immacul’ee?”
The book continues, “Felicien was sobing. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly, and quietly said what I’d come to say. I forgive you. My heart eased immediately, and I saw the tension release in Felicien’s shoulders before Semana pushed him out the door and into the courtyard. Two soldiers yanked Felicien up by his armpits and dragged him back toward his cell. When Semana returned, he was furious.”
“What was that all about, Immacul’ee? That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question….to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him? I answered him with the truth: “Forgiveness is all I have to offer.”
If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it. We hear so much about the atrocities taking place in our world, but it is rare to hear of someone who has endured a genocide yet emerged as a beautiful, powerful, loving, fogiving, Divine woman. This book will renew your faith in God and the undefeatable human spirit. It will change your mind about the grace found in forgiving anyone for anything.
For now, Earlynn’s just sayin’; “Let’s heal our world one heart at a time.”