Every April, three movies appear on the viewing list:
It is a time to remember the genocide in Rwanda; to realize that my knowledge of the horror is extremely limited; and to ponder the work that is needed today.
After yesterday’s post about Hotel Rwanda and the response of Paul Rusesabagina to the genocide in Rwanda, it was very interesting to read about Yad Vashem’s honor of Albanian Muslims as “Righteous Among Nations.” This designation, the Jewish people’s highest honor, is awarded to those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The article, which I discovered thanks to my friend Margaret Aymer, tells I story I did not know:
When the Axis Powers invaded Albania in 1939, the good people of Albania refused to release the names of their Jewish citizens. They provided false papers and helped their Jewish population hide amidst the general public.
They were so effective in their efforts that Albania became a safe haven for Jews fleeing other regimes. Albania is one of the very few countries in Europe- and the only one under Nazi dominance- whose Jewish population rose during World War II.
Not a single Jewish life was lost to the Nazis in Albania.
Why did this happen? Yad Vashem concludes that the reason was rooted in the faith of Albania’s Muslims:
The remarkable assistance afforded to the Jews was grounded in Besa, a code of honor, which still today serves as the highest ethical code in the country. Besa, means literally “to keep the promise.” One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family. Apparently this code sprouted from the Muslim faith as interpreted by the Albanians.
Besa in Albania.
Making room in Rwanda.
Thanks be to God.
See you along the Trail.
Yes. It is 3:25 in the blessed A.M.
I just finished watching Hotel Rwanda. I am tired. My great end of the church aches, really aches.
But for some reason, I put the movie on around 1:00ish and once it started, it simply seemed wrong to stop. I had to watch, even though I have seen it many times. I had to watch.
I had to watch for those people who perished and for those people who were wounded in body, mind, and spirit and who bear still their wounds.
I had to watch for those few people who tried to sound the alarm, for those few people who acted to protect, and for those people whose number is legion (and I am among them) who failed. Failed to act or acknowledge or even watch as the horror unfolded. Those people who lived the words of the film crew within the film: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.
For the killed and maimed, the killers and maimers, for the ones who ignored and the ones who were ignored, I had to watch. No choice.
In watching, I realized again what an incredible actor Don Cheadle is. He is gfted, gifted, gifted. But this is also a story and a role that clearly moves Cheadle. Paul Rusesabagina may be An Ordinary Man (his own book title), but he is an incredible character to play. Cheadle knows that plays accordingly.
Other characters are poorly developed. I knew that. I recognized it again. The actresses and actors who play many of the roles are not given much to work with. But they carry on and Cheadle/Rusesabagina carries the movie.
The story of the events at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali during those days of hell is an incredibly powerful story, an intensely poignant story, an excruciatingly painful story. It is story filled with evil acts and international indifference and banal inaction. It is a story of common decency that becomes uncommon courage. Even though I know the outline well, it is a story that grips me every time I watch.
And every time, I come a way with something new.
Tonight (this morning?) my learning came at the end of the movie when Cheadle/Rusesabagina makes the observation: There’s always room.
There’s always room. Are the words factual? Did Rusesabagina say that as his family made their way toward Tanzania? Maybe. Maybe not. It really does not matter. Because they are true.
There’s always room. They expressed the truth that came to guide Rusesabagina’s life as he opened the hotel to people fleeing death. Seeing others as sisters and brothers – he could do nothing else but find a way, create a way where there was no way – make room when there appeared to be no room.
There’s always room. They express the truth that guided rescuers during the Holocaust and during times of slaughter and genocide before and since.
There’s always room. They express the truth that could change our lives if we can open ourselves to let them do so.
There’s always room. Are they about hospitality? Certainly. But they point directly to the awareness that we are made for each other. That we are not made to butcher and exclude and deny one another – physically, emotionally, spiritually, or in any way. That Love has created us to love and that in loving our true humanity (broken and wounded as we are) is revealed and lived and reveled in.
There’s always room. What would it look like to live those words, really live those words – in our homes, our neighborhood, our churches, our places of work, our country, around the world?
It would be challenging. It would be hard. It would be frightening. Difficult. Costly. Painful.
But it also might lead to hope and peace and justice and joy and life, abundant life.
There’s always room. May it be so for me. Ever more, every day, may it be so for me.
‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ Mark 9:37
See you along the Trail.