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Refuge Part 2

As I mentioned in my post Refuge, it has been important for me to quiet my space from the powerful media that dominates the airwaves force-feeding perceptions of myself and of the world, to return to a quieter part of myself. When I gave myself permission to tune out the externals, I was able to hear a voice within that was too quiet to have been heard before with all the noise. This voice had such a different resonance as it spoke of cultivating inner peace.

This doesn't mean that I am in denial about what is happening in this world or that I don't want it to change. I'm just getting to a place where I do not become paralyzed by what I can't control (which is everything), which puts me in a much better place to instigate change without being stuck drawing more battle lines.

In a quieter space, I have been fortunate to encounter writers that appeal to this deeper wish for peace, who give it a much needed place to rest and replenish, who respect my need to find my own answers to the difficult questions, who allow me to find heart-centered conclusions that resonate with the parts of me unable to paint this world as black and white.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. He writes about Deo, a young medical student from Burundi, who very narrowly escapes mass genocide in his country, ending up completely alone in New York City, only to face an entirely new set of challenges for survival.

After reading Kidder's account of this man's life, I feel as though I have literally walked in Deo's shoes, (or lack thereof). I've experienced his friends and family, his hopes and fears, his confusion. I've experienced his running barefoot for miles in a panic to get to school on time to escape corporeal punishment. I've experienced this boy growing up with an inkling that something isn't quite right, unable to ask for clarification for fear of being beaten silent.

I've felt his fear, palpable, as he hides under his bed at the hospital where he works, with his door open, hearing his would-be killers making their way down the hallways, hearing them killing indiscriminately. I've sensed his weary soul as he makes his solitary trek to freedom through killing fields, never fully understanding why he continues to live when so many are dead. I've experienced his escape to freedom and his residual fear that keeps him from telling another human being his story; his need to be silent, because it is safe.

In addition to a detailed and honest portrait of Deo, Kidder gives a rough historical, political and social context of the region. How, for many decades, these forces together have fostered such a level of fear, that coupled with the profound sense of lack and impoverished conditions, was bound to become explosive.

What I find different about Kidder's treatment of this highly complex topic is that he does not condone the violence nor condemn the perpetrators, rather he attempts to describe the level of fear, the conditioning, the level of silence, the air-tight stories that have been fed and perpetuated, only to grow to monstrous proportions; a foundation of fear so accepted, that there becomes no room for anything but war.

Kidder's writing serves to honor Deo and his courage, to give an honest account of his experience, but it also serves to open the heart; to grapple with Kidder's very own raw response to the violence, and yet to help himself and the reader end up in a place that doesn't breed more violence, and more judgement.

Kidder's approach doesn't leave me condemning either side, which would only be to repeat, within me what is actually causing their civil war. I find myself instead left focusing on all the good that came to Deo in his new life, that gave him a sense of purpose and a platform for healing. I find myself watching Deo rise again, appreciating that his unromanticized story is presented less for dramatic effect to sell books or to champion political ideology, but to serve as the humble beginnings of a bridge to peace.

Through accounts like this, I can have an opportunity to see a complex issue in a more sane way, that doesn't keep me passing the blame, that doesn't promote a winner or a loser, a victim or a perpetrator, even if sometimes it feels obvious. (I always like to question the obvious).

I realize how much of me has been hungering for a writer/journalist who explores the issues in this way, that speaks to the heart, instead of aiming for it.


  1. Hiya Brooke,
    I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog.
    It's amazing how the heart blossoms like a beautiful flower when we sit quietly and listen.
    In my experience, walking a mile in someone elses shoes opens the door to self acceptance and love.
    I just read a great quote
    Say f**k it and say 'I love you' to someone you never said it to before.
    Okay here goes..
    I Love You

  2. Hey Nige,

    I just want to say what an honor it is to have you read my blog and resonate with it.

    Thank you for the opportunity to say this back:

    I love you too.


  3. Thank you for the introduction to this writer and for sharing the fruits of your retreat. I love the concept of speaking to the heart instead of aiming for it. That's going to stay with me.

  4. This...

    "speaks to the heart, instead of aiming for it."

    so got me.

    Your words speak to my heart and to the hearts of so many.

    Thank you.


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