It's a question that I ask every September. We haven't yet made it a day off. It's not a holiday. We don't celebrate 9/11 in America. We remember. We commemorate. It's a remembrance day.
Those of us old enough to have significant memories about the events of 2001 may pause on 9/11 to remember. To note the passage from a beautiful blue sky tranquil Monday to a terrible fearful Tuesday. Others remember their loved ones, friends and acquaintances who died, perhaps in the line of duty or maybe just in the midst of going about their lives.
Some people rail against our enemies, both real and perceived, and promise the wrath of America. Some rail against our wrath. Some seek peace.
Some complain that unless you suffered a direct loss -- or were in the middle of the chaos or had singed papers falling on you -- that you should just shut up. Some use 9/11 as their flogging boy to advance their political agendas.
What we don't do a lot of is forgiveness.
Then there's Rwanda.
As is typical of events Not In America, and especially events in Third World Africa, I don't know a lot about Rwanda. I remember the news events at the time, at least the scant coverage given. I saw Hotel Rwanda, which gives a movie-eye version of history, one more visceral and visual than truly educational.
Piecing together what I heard twice on NPR this morning, on April 7th twenty years ago, the President of Rwanda's plane was shot down, the opening salvo in a hundred days of terror as one group of people attacked another group of people speaking the same language and with the same religion, with the goal of achieving a genocide of more than a million dead.
It didn't happen in America. It didn't happen in real-time on the news in America. To be blunt, to most Americans it made no sense -- black people killing black people. Or just people killing people. With machetes. Sometimes in their own families. Spouses. Children.
Today is Remembrance Day in Rwanda. In a country where people normally don't show emotions, today it is all right to cry... in public.
Remembrance and reconciliation. Such an odd pairing of actions. No, we're not going to forget. But we aren't going to continue the madness and perpetuate the madness and the anger and the boiling pot of violence. I first heard about the concept on a national level in South Africa and simply assumed it would never work. Or maybe after the generals and the disappeared in South America. Cynical, I guess. It's not perfect, but it works. People move on. People speak the truth. People are forgiven.
Today is Remembrance Day in Rwanda. I don't know what it means. I don't know if it works. I don't know if it will continue to work into a far future.
But as awful as the Rwandan genocide was, I am remarkably hopeful about this turn in events. And though "pleased" is the wrong word, I have to put something into a sentence, so I am pleased to live in a world where something like Remembrance Day in Rwanda can occur -- and be taken seriously and solemnly at least by those in Rwanda today.
Perhaps the dead will rest more easily if the living do.