In 2009, after almost five months in Rwanda, an overwhelmed 21-year-old boarded a plane back to the United States with a promise to "tell the world we are sorry." Haunted by the question, "is there anyone else in the history of the world that has done anything like us?" I was that young girl, and that was my promise to some of the world's most brutal murderers from the Rwandan Genocide. But who was I to tell their stories? How does a person so young even begin to share -- let alone understand -- acts of genocide, murder and culturally embedded hatred?
I was first introduced to the murderers who would become my friends at a reconciliation seminar. I was invited to the seminar after four and a half months of living in Kigali, interning for a non-profit business. For a tourist who comes to Rwanda's beautiful rolling hills, its bloody past may seem like a nightmare best forgotten. For my roommates and I it was important that we reflected on it daily instead of trying to forget it. I often asked myself "how?" I often wondered if my neighbor or those that I sat with in small buses had anything to do with it. It wasn't until one of the last weekends I was there that I came face to face with the reality of Rwanda's genocide. This wasn't just a summer internship anymore, and it certainly wasn't a vacation.
The reconciliation seminar was close to the border of Tanzania at a small church. The seminar would last for four days, with 60 murderers and 10 victims starting conversations about forgiveness. At first, I denied my invitation, saying it was not my place, but I was quickly reminded that the reason I was invited was to represent the Western world. I was told that these men and women would appreciate that I was there. I gathered my courage and drove to the border with five other expatriates. The bloody past became real the second we turned the corner. Our tires were slowly grinding through the red rock when I saw 60 men with 60 bikes waiting for us under a tree. Sixty men that were waiting to say they were sorry to 10 victims who wanted to forgive them.
Almost five years later, here I am. I walked away from a job at one of the world's best companies because of the promise I made in 2009. Beyond Right & Wrong is a film that captures the message I hoped to share with the world after studying the Northern Irish conflict while living in Dublin and the Rwandan genocide while living in Kigali. I met co-director Lekha Singh at the Sundance Film Festival and recognized immediately that she had done what I was dreaming of, so I wanted to collaborate. The message is simple yet complex, beautiful and heartbreaking. We are all human, despite our cultural differences and the root of our conflicts; we all hurt differently and the path to reconciliation may vary, but forgiveness is possible.
The path to writing this blog post is long and full of turns in the road, but after those four days on the border of Tanzania, I have never stopped asking myself, "could I forgive?" That question consumed my life. After Rwanda, my life irrevocably changed because I knew that I had to share the story of forgiveness above all else.
We all experience the challenge of forgiveness at one point or another. It is a part of being human. It is real, it is possible, it is anything but simple, and it can happen even amongst the unforgivable. The word "forgive" is a challenge that almost always seems unfair. What we often do not realize is that those that hurt us own a part of our life until we forgive them and take that control back. As Desmond Tutu once said, "forgiving is not forgetting." Justice is necessary, but we can't always control the form justice takes. Sometimes, the greatest form of justice is making yourself human and your hurt a reality to those that dehumanized you. Often, perpetrators of great evil have not considered that you could be them -- that you feel, that you love, that you have a family just like them.
Forgiveness is the ultimate act of humility, both for those that have to utter the words "I'm sorry" and for the brave who say "I forgive you." When our hearts are shattered by lies, cheating, betrayal, or even murder, our initial reaction as humans ranges from tears to revenge to hatred. Those feelings eat away at our hearts even when it is all over; 5, 10, 30, 100 years later, those feelings don't disappear. Instead, they are passed on from generation to generation. So how do we stop the cycle? I will be the first to tell you -- I don't have all the answers, but I know we have to try.
"Tell the world we are sorry." I believe that sharing this film is the beginning of fulfilling my promise to share that heartbreaking apology. "Is there anyone else in the history of the world that has done anything like us?" Although painful, the answer is yes. It is crucial that we listen and learn from one another to stop the cycle of pain, hatred and violence. It is important to expose ourselves to the world's most brutal stories that result in forgiveness and new life so that we can begin the conversation that leads to reconciliation. Even when you witness the incomprehensible, it is still possible to take a step back and interpret the message in a way that relates to your everyday life. Hurt and anger can fade and joy can be rebuilt.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Beyond Right & Wrong in conjunction with the Beyond Right & Wrong One Million Viewer campaign, an effort to garner one million unique online views for Beyond Right & Wrong and, thanks to generous donations from Operation Kids Foundation and Share the Mic, support charities at the same time. Find out more about [the Beyond Right & Wrong One Million Viewer campaign here. Read all posts in the series here.