The impact must have been explosive. Although I did not actually see it, the aftermath left no doubt. Emmanuel and I arrived upon the scene just minutes after it happened, as people placed eucalyptus branches (Rwandan emergency road flares) along the pavement, 100 meters in both directions to warn oncoming motorists of what lay ahead. We had just passed this spot on the outbound of our brief errand. Nothing noteworthy then. Now on the return, we drove through layers of reality, on top of which we had previously coasted.
A large truck with tremendous momentum had collided head-on with a bicycle taxi pedaled by a young man transporting a young woman. Body parts were everywhere. Her brain was spilt upon the pavement, near her mandible, which rested a meter away from the other half of her smile. The young man was almost fully “skinned,” revealing and reminding us of our universal likeness. But I could still see he was young…much too young.
I easily imagined his great pride that I have often observed in such young men and boys: He could ride a bicycle; he somehow had access to a bike, probably borrowed; he was strong enough to pedal up steep hills to transport people often much heavier than he. He had a job and would soon receive 200 Rwf (25 cents) from his passenger—but now he would no longer need the money or the bicycle, which, like him, lay in ruins. This young man and young woman were now without care or worry as they lay where they came to rest. Rest. Such an odd, inconvenient, and public place to rest.
Joy and sorrow commingled do not come out brown, but rather in Technicolor clarity of profound feelings and questions (which might be properly termed “existential questions'”), but without any confident answers. This absence of answers is humbling, and humbling does a soul well.
Some can’t look and must turn away; others must look and can’t turn away. Put me in the latter category. But I necessarily went into video mode, as I did when I observed autopsies in the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office: Do not think; do not feel; do not talk. Just record for possible later processing, if ever able and willing.
Emmanuel broke the silence as we crept along the eucalyptus branches. “Hmmm. Dead.” Emmanuel’s words conveyed a balance of sorrow, wisdom and acceptance, with great EQ (emotional quotient) that I have seen among my Rwandan friends on matters of life and death. We Westerners are tempted to become indignant and outraged by death, thinking that it constitutes a great injustice and evidence that God is weak or untrustworthy.
Life and pain and death commingled. “Life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is selling you something.” (The Princess Bride)
When I allowed myself to begin processing, I wondered how the day had started for these two who had ridden the bicycle up the hill to their unexpected destination. The young man and young woman, nameless to me, awoke a few hours earlier, just as I had. They washed and dressed and hopefully had something to eat. Perhaps they each hugged and kissed someone—a mother, younger siblings, or maybe even a spouse and their own baby—none of whom knew that this would be the last embrace. Then the young woman hurried off to tend to her tasks for the day; she hailed the young man with the bicycle and hopped on. They may not have known one another, but they shared a very important appointment, one that was not written down in their Day Planners.
What were their last thoughts and feelings? I imagine he saw the truck, even if only for a panicked moment, and probably knew this day was not going to go as he had planned. She was probably sitting sidesaddle as Rwandan women do, gazing at the flowers on the side of the road, when life was knocked out of her and she was dead before she landed on the pavement—a life vaporized.
I did not stop and offer assistance, for I had nothing to offer. Powerless, I slowly and silently drove on, like the wildebeest moving past the lion’s kill of one of its own. I went on, moving toward my own appointment, neither the day nor time of which I know. But I will be there. I will not miss it.
As I drove and reflected, I was prompted to ponder what I most want to do before I arrive at my appointment, and three things randomly came to mind:
1. I want to give education, the gift that keeps on giving and can never be taken away. Wisdom, knowledge, skills—whatever I’ve got, however much or little—I want to offer enlarged vision and opportunities to my aspiring young Rwandan friends, who are so eager. And as I do, I shall continue to learn from them.
2. I want to communicate and demonstrate to my sons, Tommy, Nathan, and Wesley, how much I love them and how proud I am of them, something I often communicate, but such efforts never seem adequate to the one who wants his love to be known by another. (Can it be known?)
3. I want to dig my own grave. Literally. Sounds crazy at best, perhaps worse, but I want to experience this profound digging exercise: physical, emotional, and spiritual. And under the dirt that piles up next to the grave, I want to bury any remaining adolescent delusions of immortality. And after this physically and emotionally strenuous day, I will plant my shovel atop the mound of dirt and get back to my other remaining work—making every day, every hour count. (BTW, family and closest friends: You will find the readied grave in Sunzu, Rwanda, where, legend has it, God sleeps at night, an enchanting, alluring private place to rest.)
Some may observe that I said nothing about “sharing
Christ.” But I cannot imagine how I could tend to
|Sunzu, an enchanted place to rest, where the rain falls lightly; the breeze blows gently; the sun shines softly, and God comes to sleep at night. (Photos by Neil Greathouse)|
my remaining tasks, the works for which I was created, without receiving Christ’s love; giving his love; exchanging his love with others, and demonstrating hope and faith in him. And thus, I look forward to the next time I can tell an old woman with wrinkled skin stretched across her skeletal frame that she must rest and allow me the joy of taking her cup and scooping water from a mud hole and filling and carrying her jerry can up the steep hillside. As I fill her jerry can I am filled. This is not sacrifice; this is pure privilege—to draw close to the Majority World, “the world” God “so loves.” This is “everlasting life,” eternal life which is now (and then).