The Valley of the Dry Bones: Genocide and Resurrection

This is a throwback post to my Reflections on Rwanda Genocide Study Trip in May 2012

In May 2012, I travelled on the Reflections on Rwanda program, a two-week trip for Canadian students to visit the Republic of Rwanda and study the genocide that occurred there in 1994. The purpose for studying genocide is to gain insight into human nature through studying the extremes in human action. Listening to the stories of rescuers and survivors prompts me to study the virtues required to affirm the sanctity of human persons.

Confronting profound evil is a difficult experience that challenges my faith. We toured dozens of memorial sites throughout the country. Many of these sites were former churches where people had fled seeking refuge and peace. At each site, we saw hundreds of skulls and bones of victims. Looking at those skulls and bones, I thought about my own skull and my own bones. I thought about how these bones and skulls fall short of truly representing the victims. What the skulls and bones do emphasize is equality, but what they deemphasize is individuality. When I observed a display with rosaries and identity cards among the skulls, it made me think about the dynamism of the life that once animated those bodies that were so violently destroyed.

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The Triumph of the Cross

The September 14th feast day of the Triumph of the Cross (also known as the Exaltation of the Cross) is a reminder of the paradox that the greatest tragedy became the greatest triumph.

To think that the Nazi propaganda film The Triumph of the Will was released in 1935, four years before a Jewish-Catholic named Edith Stein wrote the following words in addressing her religious community on the September 14th feast…

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How we remember 9/11

On September 11th, I am remembering my visits to the 9/11 memorial in New York City.

Earlier this year, I listened to this interesting podcast episode by Malcolm Gladwell discussing both the 9/11 memorial as well as memorials for the homeless. If that sounds intriguing to you, click here.

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum has a lot of elements that very much reveal the character, spirit, and approach of the American people to tragedy, patriotism, and the value of human life.

Here are some snaps from my visits:

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Roberto Clemente’s Immortality

Today while visiting my friends John and Sarah Beth in Houston, John brought home a book to show us titled, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss.

“I don’t find it easy or natural to think about death, but when I think about this book…” John began, excited to share with us the story of a noble life and death.

I had never heard of baseball player Roberto Clemente before but John’s sincere enthusiasm – and even reverence – for Clemente immediately signified to me his undeniable importance.

John told us that his passion for Clemente’s story was piqued in third grade. An excellent teacher had given the assignment of doing a biographical book report on any famous person he wanted to learn about, admired, or found interesting.

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Moving into grief instead of moving on from it

This past weekend (from Saturday night to Sunday night) was Tisha B’Av, the Jewish date for communal mourning of the destruction of the temples in the Jerusalem as well as all other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people through history.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem and perhaps that will provide inspiration for another post.

Today, however, I wanted to share something I heard on Yocheved Davidowitz A Deeper Conversation podcast episode for Tisha B’Av.

In it, she discusses the solidarity Jews experience in mourning loss collectively and also the profound rituals Jews have for funerals and the grieving process.

Yocheved then discusses how, in her work as a therapist, she would notice the sense of dread people have about feeling sadness and mourning.

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Caregiving as a school in humanity

This evening I read a short book written by my friend and colleague’s grandmother.

In the brief memoir, Walk with Me: growing rich through relationships, author Judy Rae reflects on the experience of caring for her husband Joe while he developed Alzheimer’s.

Presented with honesty and infused with a faith, Rae offers a window into how caregiving can be a school in humanity.

Judy recounts the pain and sorrow of watching her husband lose his memory and she does not skirt the undeniably tragic dimensions of this disease.

“I have been told that when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he is introduced to a world of loneliness, rejection, terror, confusion, misinformation, and termination. Can this tragedy bring with it any victory into our lives?” she asks.

Rae speaks about how Joe became embarrassed and humiliated by what he could no longer do or remember. Despite the continual accompaniment, affection, and affirmation of his wife, Joe’s feelings of uselessness regularly caused him to get frustrated with himself and even to cry.

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Parting Words

If you died today, what are the last words of yours that your loved ones might find in your bag, on your computer, in a text message, or on your desk?

One of the victims of the recent tragedy in Meron reportedly gave his friend an envelope and told him not to open it until Sunday.

Rabbi Shimon Matlon could never have imagined that he would die that very night and that his note would be opened not only to his friend but to the world.

According to this source, the letter said:

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What You Are Doing Is Important

What a remarkable photo it is taken by Ariel Schalit for the Associated Press. The caption in this Globe and Mail story says, “Mourners gather around the body of Shraga Gestetner, a Canadian singer who died during Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021.”

Shraga Gestetner was among those accidentally trampled and killed in the midst of a big celebration in Israel. Many commentators are reflecting on the heightened fervour and enthusiasm among those who were finally able to gather for the annual event, partly in celebration of the luminousness of Judaism’s mystical teachings.

The Montreal-born victim had been in Israel without any of his family members and he was buried immediately in accordance with Jewish law.

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Commemoration for All Ages

Today marks the 81st anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre and is the designated day of remembrance for the victims.

I don’t remember really learning about this event until I moved to Poland.

But once I was in Poland, I saw lots of monuments and memorials commemorating the more than 20,000 Poles who were murdered by Soviets in 1940. Since many of the mass graves were discovered in the Katyn Forest, this became the name by which the massacre came to be known.

One of the prominent Katyn memorials I saw was this one at the Lipowa Cemetery in Lublin, Poland.

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Does Tragedy Confer Dignity?

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the 2010 plane crash in which 96 people, including Poland’s then president Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, died.

They were en route to commemorate the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre in which more than 20,000 Poles had been murdered by Soviets.

Those on the flight composed an official delegation and so many of the other crash victims were political, church, and military leaders in Poland.

I still remember a religious sister guiding me toward a monument commemorating victims of the crash in the Lublin cemetery. She whispered, “Some do not refer to this as the Smolensk disaster but rather as Katyn the Second.”

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