When Life Is In Pieces

November 9, 2014


“Emmanuel Ndayisaba, left, cut off with a machete the hand of Alice Mukarurinda, right, in the swamp where she was hiding and killed her baby girl during the 1994 Rwandan genocide” (nbcnews.com).

In April 1994, for roughly three months 500,000 to 100,000 people were affected by a genocide killing in the country of Rwanda (wikipedia).

This is an amazing story of healing between two people. One man, Emmanuel Ndayisaba, was haunted for years by his conscious from the things he’d done. The day came when Emmanuel found the woman, Alice Mukarurinda, whom he mutilated, and whose child he killed during the unrest between the Hutus and Tutsis.

“Their story of ethnic violence, extreme guilt and, to some degree, reconciliation is the story of Rwanda today, 20 years after its Hutu majority killed more than 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus” (nbcnews.com).

I am overwhelmed with the number of people who died in such a short time.  In only a matter of months, a million people were killed. Some people were killed by their neighbors; people they went to church with on Sunday. I wonder, how could something so devastating like this happen?

When life is in pieces, who or what keeps you tethered?  How do you put the pieces of life back together again?

Emmanuel Ndayisaba’s spirit of reconciliation propelled him to go beyond his guilt and shame to talk to a woman he maimed not for a day, but for her life.  The article describes how Emmanuel gathered the courage to talk to Alice and plead for her forgiveness for what he had done to her.

I love Alice’s response:  She needed to think about it. She took two weeks to think about what to say to Emmanuel.  After years of living with grief and loss, two more weeks of examining her motives seemed appropriate.  None of this, “Now make up, say your sorry, and be friends. He said he was sorry. Forgive him.”  She wrestled with how to respond.  She wanted to talk it over with her husband. I think Alice is very wise.  She knows if she forgives him, she frees him from his regret. She knows she has the power to free his heart of the burden he has carried, –all the while knowing she will still live without her baby, the dreams of all that she had hoped for her child to be one day, and without the use of her hand.  Some might think, don’t forgive him. She may have thought to herself, “No, you (Emmanuel) just live with the pain of regret for what you did to me, just as I do everyday when I can’t use my hand and I don’t even have the chance to care for my child.”  Withholding forgiveness would give Alice a power over Emmanuel, a negative power…a power with no positive outcome.

But that is not what Alice did. She forgave Emmanuel. As the article describes:  “We had attended workshops and trainings and our hearts were kind of free, and I found it easy to forgive,” she says. “The Bible says you should forgive and you will also be forgiven.”

Alice let go of what Emmanuel could never repay her. She let what was taken, violently taken from her, go. This choice restored the relationship between them.

“Yet today, despite coming from opposite sides of an unspeakable shared past, Alice Mukarurinda and Emmanuel Ndayisaba are friends. She is the treasurer and he the vice president of a group that builds simple brick houses for genocide survivors.”

“Whenever I look at my arm I remember what happened,” said Alice, a mother of five with a deep scar on her left temple where Emanuel sliced her with a machete. As she speaks, Emmanuel — the man who killed her baby — sits close enough that his left hand and her right stump sometimes touch.”

When life is in pieces, the heart of a person needs to be tilled. The soil of their being needs to be “disced” or prepared for something new to happen.  The disc is the tool a farmer using on the back of their tractors, or of an animal, to prepare the ground for planting a new crop.  For Alice, she had been to many workshops and trainings that prepared her for her response to Emmanuel.  The hard ground of a person’s interior being, the very soil of their thoughts needs to be broken up for a new way of thinking or of doing things to begin to occur.

I don’t think experiences of inhumanity can be simplified or rationalized. When my life is in pieces, I’ve wrestled with my heart being “tilled.”

Three things that have helped me:  acceptance, responsibility, and forgiveness.

Accepting the full reality of what happened is healing.

Taking responsibility for my end and how I contributed to the problem is the first step to making an effort to change these behaviors. Blaming others delays the ability to move on.

Forgive myself for mistakes I’ve made and find a way to forgive the mistakes other’s have made that have affected me.

I want to be like Alice. I want to have a heart that is like hers –“kinda free” to let things go.

Alice and Emmanuel’s remarkable story of friendship challenges me to be a better person.

Their story can be found at the following web site:


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