Imagine no possessions… it’s easy if you try…
We made a quick stop at AVEGA headquarters. I was happy because I needed to see and hug Josephine one more time. I know it was selfish, but it’s been 20 years since I had been in the embrace of such a powerful lady.
Josephine is a director at the AVEGA headquarters. She was the one who gave us gift baskets to take back to our homes when we first visited AVEGA a couple of days ago.
First looks are deceptive. Usually a positive first impression will lead to some let down when you understand that a person is just a person, and their faults become more apparent. In Josephine’s case, the first impression of a gracious lady was only more fortified when I learned her story. Is it possible that someone rises beyond their humanness in this lifetime? She didn’t share her story with us at our meeting, I only learned of it later when someone pointed out that not only was she a widow but also she had lost all of her children in the Genocide.
Who was this incredible person that could not only stand up after such a tragedy, but take on the leadership of other widows? She was much more than we could have imagined. Josephine, we found out, has adopted seven orphans - the same number of children she lost in the Genocide.
We look for superhuman strength in many arenas. In movies they accentuate strength with flight and invulnerability. We cheer competition on the sports fields and celebrate the strongest, the toughest, the most enduring. We even allow for enhancement of our abilities by taking steroids to compensate for our frailties. And here, on this dusty road in the middle of Rwanda we met real strength – the superhuman type. The godly type. Delicate. Courageous. Inspiring. Josephine was all that, but even more beautiful about her personality was that her warm smile and embrace at our first meeting would never reveal any of her pain. It was there… the pain was certainly there. But she wasn’t going to give evil the satisfaction of her let down. Evil may have won the battle, but she wasn’t going to let it claim the war. That’s it… she’s a warrior….
I guess this is where it begins, in the midst of this trauma. My grandmother had this same type of tenacity in her. She was a bastion of strength, otherwise unnoticed because she was relegated to the stereotypes of grandmahood. She lost her father, husband and one baby during the Genocide. By the time the dust settled and the killings had stopped – in the mid-1920’s, she was a widow, head-of-household tending to her son, her three sisters, two brothers and an ill mother. This was after seeing her home and village go up in flames, her friends brutally killed, the countless bodies she had to help bury along the road to survival. It was after fighting all the diseases (dysentery, cholera, malaria and all the other oddball things for which we get vaccinated) and dealing with hunger, poverty and homelessness after the exile from her home in Sivri-hisar. She ended up in Greece, head of household and head up high. Evil may have won the battle, but she wasn’t going to let it claim the war!
So where did this strength come from? What prevented her nervous breakdown? Why didn’t she just back down and back out? How come she rose not only to the occasion but to the moment of being mother to her own, to her siblings, to her mother – and then, went on to remarry, mother my father AND bring in enough income with my grandfather to provide for her siblings' families. Was she born on Krypton? I know steroids hadn’t been discovered back then.
She had told me her secret once or maybe twice. I needed this trip to refresh my memory. I now remember it was one of my main motivations to enter the priesthood. It was an experience from her life that she shared with me and not many others – at least I don’t remember any public testimonial of this story. It took place on the road of exile. She had just buried her two year old son in an unmarked grave. Her other son was suffering of malaria. She was separated from her siblings – not sure who was living and who was dead. She had absolutely nothing – no possessions. Not sure where she was headed, not sure if she would live beyond the moment.
“On the road, I got down on my knees,” my grandmother told me, “I said, ‘God, I’ve lost everything. I don’t have anything left. All I ask is that you don’t take my faith and my mind.’ And that was it. He’s never left me alone. He’s given me everything.”
Our world is pretty messed up these days. We talk about power and strength in terms of weapons and mass destruction. Imagine if power was found in faith and mass creation. My grandmother went on to create a new life. She was the matriarch of our clan – both my immediate family and extended family. She was the provider for cousins and relatives we never even met. This was real power, it was real strength. The godly type. Delicate. Courageous. Inspiring.
My grandmother died 20 years ago. I haven’t been hugged by anyone that strong – woman or man – since then. On this trip I found her spirit reincarnated here in these widows.
I saw Josephine on the AVEGA doorsteps. I ran up to her and she greeted me with her warm smile. I gave her a small Etchmiadzin cross and knew that that same faith that saved my grandmother was saving these ladies and their families.
© 2006 Fr. Vazken Movsesian