Despite Living Through Genocide, One Can Still Seek Out The Goodness In People

05/24/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A friend from Rwanda visited me on Friday. I first met her in the
country's capital, Kigali, in 1996, two years after the genocide. She
was working at UNICEF then, and though we had just met, she helped me
track down the people I had known when I and a small group of women
created the nation's first microfinance bank in the mid-1980s. Some of
my friends had been murdered. Others watched their families massacred.
One was a major perpetrator. My friend even helped me gain access to the
prisons in Rwanda to meet with two of the women. Through it, we became
friends, and I wouldn't have been able to write The Blue Sweater in the
way I did without her help.

My friend -- let me call her Marie -- is a remarkable woman, to say the
least. During the genocide, she lost 100 of 103 family members. She
herself survived because her Hutu husband was able to secure her an
identification card that said she was Hutu. At the time, she had a five
year old, and another child on the way. At one of the checkpoints, a
soldier questioned the validity of her ID, saying she looked too much
like a Tutsi to be Hutu. She protested, and he pushed, finally telling
her to lift her skirt so that he could see her legs. When she did, he
spat on the ground, saying, "Ah, you cannot be Tutsi because your legs
are too ugly; they are not like the legs of Tutsi women."

"All my life," Marie told me, "I had asked God why he'd given me big
legs, and now I understood the reason." She survived along with her
child, and now she has three. Her dream is to build an organization
that helps rehabilitate people who are still traumatized by the genocide
and to help people find God. "If you can't forgive," she said, "you
can't be free. Life is too short to be a prisoner in your own self."

To say that forgiveness is hard at that level sounds trite and absurd.
But I have known Marie for a decade, and you can see her calm and her
goodness in the light in her eyes. She is indeed free, though she has
walked through the greatest darkness imaginable. She is, herself, a
reminder of our yearning as human beings for goodness, our yearning for
hope and for love. And of our potential for true greatness, not measured
only by achievement but in how we live the minutes of our lives.