Yesterday I turned sixty. My children, family and friends put on a surprise party to mark the occasion. It was a moving and humbling experience.
Speaker after speaker said all the nice things – ordinary things that one does as duty or as a matter of course and often forgets about, but which apparently touch other people’s lives in profound ways.
They are the small things we think are inconsequential because they are part of daily living and therefore taken for granted.
At sixty I am now a grand old man, and like most elderly people I am given to reflection. And so I’ve been thinking deeply about anniversaries and what they mean.
There are many events we mark in life – milestones in individuals’ lives: birthdays, christening, weddings, and even death. Others are about achievements – success at whatever task, elevation or election to a higher office, recognition of extra-ordinary feat, and so on.
These happen every day, everywhere, in every society and although they are special events, they are also ordinary.
The particular event and the celebration that goes with it is are therefore normal things that occur in normal societies, and because of this we take them for granted.
We rarely stop to think that there are situations and places where this is not the case, where marking an anniversary is either impossible or part of a painful memory. Yet such places exist, nowhere more pointedly than in our own country, Rwanda.
This year we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide of the Tutsi. Today, and throughout the last twenty years, there are many Rwandans who cannot celebrate any sort of anniversary.
For many, there is none to celebrate with, to share the excitement of achievement, the joy of reaching a significant landmark or simply to mark the passage of time.
For others, the memory of the anniversary of loved ones brings to mind only sorrow, pain and horror. The anniversary Rwandans share at this time of year is the most horrendous event in this country’s history – the genocide.
The absence of occasion to celebrate and people to share in the joy is not accidental. It is the result of attempts to exterminate an entire section of Rwandans.
There is no greater evil, no bigger crime than denying someone the right to celebrate the life of a loved one, to cheer them on when they are doing well, encourage them to do even better, admonish them when they fall short of their potential, urge them to get up when they fall and console them when they are hurt.
These are the simple actions that help build an individual’s worth and create a caring society. They are the stuff that make life worth living.
Many Rwandans, however, have been denied the experience of these little things that humanise society that others take for granted.
It is essential to “rehumanise” our society so that people can once again enjoy the simple acts of marking individual and family events together. This may include making those responsible for depriving others of what is their right account for their actions.
As I marked my 60th birthday, I was glad that I am living in a country that for the last twenty years has been doing just that – and not only for Rwandans but even for those outside this country whose human values seem to be inverted.
I am happy that I live in a country where we have not only been rebuilding the nation, but also restoring our ability to celebrate our lives, take pride in our individual and collective achievements and to live together as a nation.
Over the last twenty years a smile has returned to the faces of many Rwandans where fear and uncertainty had taken hold; a spring can be seen in our collective step where once we were not sure where to set foot so as not to stumble, and a confident resolve is in evidence where despair and doubt at one time ruled.
We can now do the simple, ordinary things that every normal society does. We can mark anniversaries – even those that bring memories of horror – with the confidence that they will not happen again.
That is the reflection of an old man.
In cricket when a batsman makes fifty runs in a single match, he raises his bat in celebration. I did that ten years ago (without a bat). The next milestone for a cricketer is a century (one hundred runs).
I am well on the way and the country I live in assures me that, barring natural causes, and with the indulgence of the Guy above (He has been generous so far), nothing should stop me from reaching that score.
I am afraid you will have to put up with the rumblings of an old man for quite a while.