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Of all the gifts that people can give to one another,
the most meaningful and long lasting
are strong but simple love and the gift of story.

-Clarissa Pinlola Estes 

December 15, 2011                                          

     As the joke goes, if the three Wise Men had been Wise Women, they would have asked for directions, showed up on time, cleaned the stable, and helped deliver the baby. Maybe we would even have Peace on Earth.  In honor of the approaching holidays, Katie would like to share with you a story about one wise woman; a Christmas story of sorts because it is about humble beginnings, transcending the human condition, and setting an example of how to live that most of us can only strive to emulate.  We appreciate ‘the gift of story’ as many of you have shared your stories with us at book events and Conferences around the country over the last year.  Thank you and we wish you all a wonder-filled Holiday Season.   
Joan, Katie and Meb 

            I met Rose  Mapendo on a shuttle taking us to an evening reception at the Texas Women’s Conference in Houston for sponsors and speakers.  The First Lady of Texas would be there along with a smattering of celebrities.  I had gotten on the shuttle late and all the rows had one person in them - heads down, thumbs waggling on various devices, except one woman near the front.  Her arms were crossed and she was staring out the window.  Maybe she just feels out of place, I thought, something I could relate to, especially without my "wingwomen," Joan and Meb, there that evening.  I sat down next to her and introduced myself.

     “I’m Rose,” she said, and I immediately detected a thick accent.

     “Are you speaking at the Conference?” I asked.

     And so began a story I will never forget.  Rose and I settled into a pattern of repeating and rephrasing in fits and starts because I found it difficult to understand her at first.  She is a Tutsi from the East Republic of Congo where they suffered the same despicable fate in 1998 as they had in Rwanda a few years earlier.  Rose’s husband of eighteen years was tortured and murdered and she and seven of her eight children (a five year old daughter was lost in the massacre and reunited many years later) were sent to a Death Camp.  There, Rose discovered she was pregnant.  When she gave birth many months later - to premature twin boys - she had survived near starvation, and unrelenting disease.  The birth occurred on the cement floor of a prison cell where she had to be silent for fear of discovery - they would have taken her to the hospital where no one had ever returned.  She cut the umbilical cords herself with a piece of wood.

     I am sure that the horror had registered on my face.  I was grateful for the traffic I could see outside the shuttle window, grounding me in the present and delaying our arrival at the party.  Rose paused, interrupting her story to ask me what I was speaking about at the Conference.

     “I wrote a book about miracles,” I began.

     She touched my arm and said “Ah, Miracles…of course,” as if she could see right through me.  Though relevant to the Conference, I didn’t feel particularly motivated to launch into our “Strategies for Successful Transitions” workshop description.  It seemed a bit far removed from a cement floor in a Death Camp in the Congo.

     We had just pulled up to the party house and as we were getting off the shuttle I asked Rose, “Did you name one of your sons after your husband?”

     “No, I named them after the commanders who murdered my husband,” she said. 

     I was still working hard to decipher some of her words and was certain I must have misheard her.  We were off the shuttle by now and had stepped to the side.

     “I’m sorry, Rose, I didn’t understand. Who did you name them for?”

     She repeated, “…the two commanders that murdered my husband…”

     “Why!?” was all I could blurt out.

     “Three things,” she said. “First, I wanted them to know I was not their enemy.  In my culture, if you name a child for someone, they cannot be your enemy.  Two, this was the only way I could forgive.  If I am not their enemy, they are not my enemy either.  Three, I wanted my sons to survive.”  The tears welled up in my eyes as she finished, and then they welled up in hers.  We hugged each other.  No more words came.

     We walked into the party together and kept track of each other throughout the hour I was there.  She asked me the difference between “like” and “love” and between “house” and “home.” How ironic, I thought, she could certainly explain the difference better to me than the other way around, except for the language barrier.  My attempt to explain the nuance of these words in the English language was a failure, but we enjoyed the banter.  Rose laughed easily and with joy in the moment.  (Good God, forget achieving the pinnacle of peace and forgiveness, this amazing, charming, wise woman, has mastered living in-the-moment!)  When I left to have dinner with a friend, we promised to find each other the next day.

     The next morning, I glanced at the cover photos on the Texas Conference for Women glossy program.  “Live Fearlessly” the motto proclaimed.  Rose was featured on the cover as one of the Keynote speakers.  I read her Bio.  She was named Humanitarian of the Year by the United Nations, a CNN Hero, and honored at the White House for her commitment “to educate the global audience about the affects of war on women and children.”  She “is challenging the global community to accept peace and reconciliation.”

     I remembered something Rose had told me the evening before as we rode through the Houston traffic.

     “I go back. I go back to tell the women, they do not have to be victims.  They can help me bring peace and forgiveness.”

     Rose and I did meet up a couple of times the day of the Conference where we exchanged more hugs, and our emails too.  By the time she departed mid-day, I somehow felt we had become friends.

     Rose has lived in the United States now for ten years where she and her brother, a physician, work tirelessly to bring more than peace and forgiveness to their native land through their foundation New Horizons.  She and I have exchanged emails about the training center for women she is building in Rwanda Kigali.  In her email she thanked me “for the good time I had with you in the bus.  It was blessing to me.”

     No Rose, it was blessing to me.


Wishing all of you
Blessings and Peace this Holiday Season

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Joan, Katie and Meb
co-authors of The Miracle Chase
It's About Survival
"Maybe 'Why?' is the wrong question. Maybe the question should be 'How?' How do we love better, believe better, appreciate better?"