Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Good Man in Hell




Reading: 

A GOOD MAN IN HELL, ROMEO DALLAIRE AND THE RWANDA GENOCIDE, by Jerry Fowler, Staff director at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Please join me in welcoming General Roméo Dallaire and Ted Koppel.
Ted Koppel: We are not going to spend this evening talking about General Dallaire. He would not have it that way. We are going to spend this evening talking about events that he observed, that he tried to prevent, that he was unsuccessful in preventing. But I want to begin this evening by focusing on a day in his life that I’m sure he remembers well. I don’t know the date or the time but basically I remember the setting: winter, park bench, and you were drunk.
Roméo Dallaire Yes.
Ted Koppel: Passed out in fact.
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, on very bad scotch.
Ted Koppel: I thought perhaps we should begin with that moment in time and with that event because there was a reason for it. Before you tell us the reason, tell us just how bad things were for you.
Roméo Dallaire: The impact of the trauma of Rwanda had physically affected my brain and had put me in a state where there was no capability left of any desire for life, any desire to even consider life. I was even debating whether I should exist as I held on my shoulders, and still today, the belief that as commander of the mission in Rwanda I had failed the Rwandans. I had failed in my duty as the UN mission commander to assist the Rwandans to be able to move to a peaceful application of democracy in a rather short period of time.
And so I entered a state that got worse with time, not better. When I did come back originally I was deputy commander of the army, and I was told don’t worry about that stuff. With time and hard work it will all dissipate and those scenes of children who were chopped up just like pieces of salami, women opened up with the fetuses laying there, elderly people dying in your arms in a mass movement of 50,000, 60,000 people in the rain in the mountains looking in your eyes and saying, “What happened? Weren’t you there? How did we end up like this?”
Falling into scenes where in a church, where we finally were able to enter—the militia had convinced the people over an extremist radio station to go there, if they felt unsafe go to the church and you will be safe by conventions of Geneva and the like—only to find out that once the place was packed, and in fact one of the churches is smaller than this and there were over 2,000 people in there, they had opened up the roof, threw a couple of grenades in, and then walked in and hacked and slashed.
Now, killing people with a machete is not efficient and it is also very tiring. So one or two hits to the majority of the people and then they would let them fester and die over two or three days.
2,000 people, including priests and nuns, were slaughtered in just one of many of the missions and churches in Rwanda.
Walking literally into a pile of bodies because there’s no way around it and feeling the cold. The cold of a dead body is not a temperature. It’s a state. And all that and the continued killing and our inability to prevent it, just to watch it. My inability to convince the international community that it should stop this incredible crime against humanity simply accumulated and with time became clearer.
Your mind with time, in fact, doesn’t erase things that are traumas. It makes them clearer. They become digitally clearer and then you are able to sit back and all of a sudden have every individual scene come to you instead of the massive blur of many scenes I saw every day.
The accumulation of the spirits that would come to you at night in the form of eyes, thousands of eyes, some mad, some simply there, and others bewildered, innocent children and adults, all that accumulated to the fact that I simply totally broke down.
The Canadian forces could not use me as a three-star general any more, as I could not command troops in operations for I was unable to handle any of the strains and responsibilities of that. So what you do with a three-star general who can’t command troops and that’s all he knows how to do, is you retire him medically. That event happened a couple months after my retirement.”

I chose to speak about my country Rwanda, because back in April this year, 2014, we did mention in the Tuesday Program in the Chapel, the remembering, the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Genocide of Tutsi.
Whenever you hear about Rwanda, it’s all horrible and memories of what the media, movies said about it.
I have to mention that, I was born in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) because my parents had to leave the country earlier in 1960s following political and ethnic belongs issues in Rwanda.
After the 1994 Genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda, almost 1 million people were killed and many more millions flew out of the country and most of them went to Zaire, where I was, myself and many other were the next victims, only because we’re Tutsis, or just because we look like…. It became very dangerous for us,
There was a need to help this “new Rwanda” to rebuild, then I moved to Rwanda.
Last week at MIT, we had a 15 min of All Doors Open
This morning I don’t really want to talk about death,
I want to talk about some positive fact that We, Rwandan, have made.
·      According to Forbes magazine, Rwanda is #49 Best Countries for Business
·      Looking ahead, the macroeconomic outlook points to pick-up in growth in the second half of this year as domestic demand recovers with the resumption of aid flows. For the year as a whole, economic growth is projected at 6.6 percent and 7.5 percent.
·      In 2008, Rwanda achieved a monumental milestone: the first country in the world to have a female majority in Parliament. (Women make up 18 percent of the US congress). Currently, Rwandan women hold over 55 percent of the positions in government. There ae few jobs or professions in which a woman cannot be found.
·      Donald Kaberuka, the president of the African Development Bank, is a Rwandan Citizen
·      The Rwandan Defense Forces are the elite being part of the United Nations peacekeeping, like in Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Liberia, Sudan… discipline and experience. Right now, they were chosen to guard the interim President of the Central African Republic.

To end my talk,
President Clinton has called the failure to intervene in Rwanda one of his biggest regrets.
And Romeo Dallaire: “Rwanda will never leave me, it’s in the pores of my body. My soul is in those hills, my spirit is with the spirits of all those people who were slaughtered and killed.

Thank you and I invite you to visit Rwanda.


~ Speaker, Claude Muhinda, Office of the Dean for Student Life ~


Reading:
I know there’s a GOD because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there’s a God.
                                                                                     General Romeo Dallaire
In all my travels, I’ve never seen a country’s population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeeds than in Rwanda.
                                                                                    Rick Warren
We appreciate the true leadership that we have been blessed with in President Kagame. Thank you for your vision and most of all for peace in Rwanda. Rwanda is one of the few countries where I could live happily, invest, raise my children and enjoy…

                                                                                    Ambassador Andrew Young

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On Humility

Tuesdays in the Chapel
September 9, 2014
Robert M Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Reading:  from Counting to God by Douglass Ell
This book is about a largely unnoticed consensus between the mystic and the scientist. It is about both asking us to look in the same direction, toward a glimpse of a greater reality. It is about wondrous connections among the concepts of number, universe, and God. By observing the universe, through number, we detect evidence of the existence of God.
The riddle of existence is as old as the human race. Why does the universe exist? Is what we see and detect all there is, or is there some type of greater reality, of greater truth? Why do we exist? Can we believe we were put here for a purpose, and if so, what is it?
These are “great questions.” There are many questions in our lives, many uncertainties, many doubts. The great questions are in a class by themselves, deeper than all others. Like shadows in the deep, the great questions wait beneath the surface of our lives. When things are well in our lives, when the waters are smooth, it is easy to forget the great questions. But when the waters are rough and the waves threaten to overcome out little boats, the great questions often rise to the surface of our thoughts. We may not say them out loud; we may not even phrase the words. We may be in pain, in danger, alone, or simply confused, and just ask “Why?” or “What now?” When we are in trouble, under stress, when events shake us out of our complacent lives, we have a heightened awareness of the riddle of existence. We are more likely to ask the great questions. We are more likely to step out of our daily patterns and more likely to ask why.
Although ancient, the great questions are more relevant, and more important, today than ever before. They are also deeply personal. How you live your life could depend, perhaps to a great extent, on your personal answers to the great questions. Some devote their lives to a calling they believe comes from God; others mock believers and follow no moral code. Still others invent their own moral code but doubt divine intervention or design.
The good news of this book—the good news of the third millennium—is that modern science strongly supports both belief in a greater reality and belief that both our universe and life itself were designed.

Thank you for being here  today as we begin our year of gathering. Our theme this year is a challenge to think of the one notion, trait or quality that is most important to how you order your life. Living as we do with at least one foot in the university where the search for truth is primary, I have come to believe that the single most important characteristic or quality we must cultivate in that search is humility.

Now some will respond that for me that will be easy. I expect that. It is not an inappropriate response and a good excuse to  avoid the task lest embarrassment follow, but the quest for understanding of the world we live in is a life long endeavor and it is important that we keep looking even we are convinced that we know it all. I have a standing rule that when it seems to me that I have seen it all it is likely that within a very short time something will happen to remind me that I have not.

Let me illustrate with the words of a recent book review that appeared in the magazine The Living Bird. Stephen J. Bodio reviewing a book Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin writes:

Do not skip the preface, where the authors tell us why they have organized the book as they have, about the importance in human history of understanding science, and- a wonderful phrase I have never seen before- that science consists of not “the truth” but “the truth for now.”

Usually when I am confronted with something I have not run into it is behavioral, a student does something that surprises me. What we have here is a reference to a bit of humility that seems to me to set a new bar for recognizing the complexity of our quest for knowledge. The author has reminded us that there is more to know. The Apostle Paul, the most confident of Christian writers creating the New Testament had said something similar in the passage of scripture read out of context in 2/3rds of Christian weddings:  1 Corinthians 13: 12 “At present we only see puzzling reflections in a mirror, but one day we shall see face to face. My knowledge now is partial; then it will be whole…”  We are comfortable hearing such words when applied to family matters such as marriage, less so when applied to our research in classroom and laboratory. Our reaction does not make them less true.

That is why I found Douglas Ell’s Counting to God: a Personal Journey to Belief helpful. Ell is a graduate of this institution and he recounts a journey that many will find worth attention. He was recently on campus invited by the Physics Department to share his journey. The book is worth a glance. He may claim too much but his sense of order in the chaos of creation and life is worth our attention.

So too the wisdom of Owen Gingerich our good friend from Harvard. I tend to shy away from those who speak loudly in capital letters. Gingerich is modest to a fault. Peter Gomes described him as “armed with often disarming understatement where others frequently hurl absolutes.”  He noted that Gingerich often quoted Einstein and reminded us that emulating Einstein was not a bad move for a scientist.
Einstein once wrote “The sense experiences are the given subject matter (of science). But the theory that shall interpret them is man-made…never completely final, always subject to question and doubt.”

There is much I do not understand in the world around us and the pace of this place still takes my breath away. I often feel on the edge of chaos and I confess that I do not understand how good people find themselves suffering terrible difficulties without seeming hope of surmounting them. Illness comes suddenly; freak accidents leave the vibrant redefining their lives. Some give up. The provision of freedom in an orderly world seems to demand the vagaries of chance that leave us gasping in horror at the results of actions taken in despair. I often cry out in anger: why?

Yet I also react to those who know too much and speak so loudly.
Hooded thugs who send messages to America remind us that evil hides
everywhere, but I still perceive an order and care for creation as I look out my real and figurative windows on the world. It is a foundational notion that helps me keep going when things are difficult and as the burdens of age and experience weigh even more heavily, I find it even more helpful.  In an environment like MIT it allows me to maintain the balance necessary to do good work.  We do not know it all and we need not claim we do in loud words that mask uncertainty, but we know some things and experience a comforting order. I am grateful.

Let me close with these words from Mary Oliver:

When we’re driving, in the dark,
on the long road to Provincetown…
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place…
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything—the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness-
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns…
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.


COMING HOME  in Dream Work (1986)

Reading: from God’s Universe by Owen Gingerich
If we regard God’s world as a site of purpose and intention and accept that we, as contemplative surveyors of the universe, are included in that intention, then the vision is incomplete without a role for divine communication, a place for God both as Creator-Sustainer and as Redeemer, a powerful transcendence that not only can be asomething but take on the mask of someone; a which that can connect with us as a who, in a profound I-Thou relation. Such communication will be best expressed through personal relationships, through wise voices and prophets in many times and places. The divine communication will carry a moral dimension, only dimly perceived in the grandeur of creation, yet present through the self-limitation of the Creator who has given both natural laws and freedom within its structure. Here, implications for human morality are discernible, for this view implies a kenotic or self-renunciatory ethic that is at odds with the “survival of the fittest” of evolutionary theory. As Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then my followers would fight.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chief Jim

JIM OLIVIERI
 Paul Lagace, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
September 12, 2014
            We come together today to recall and pay tribute to a person who touched our lives in many different ways and yet in some common ways.  In our recollection and sharing of these thoughts, we bring forward the meaning of this person to each of us and to our community.  I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts of the person who I came to know as “Chief Jim”.
            In order to properly relay these thoughts, I need to paint a somewhat different picture of the person speaking here with you today……  I arrived at MIT from Maine as a freshman 40 years ago this fall.  I soon discovered that I had much to learn, and to this day don’t believe I will ever stop learning here.  Yet at the same time, I found that there were a diversity of very willing and quite capable teachers here.  They were, of course, in the classrooms, they were in the dorms – housemasters, resident “tutors”, and upperclassmen, they worked as cooks and staff in the dorm dining hall I worked in.  And as I spent more time at MIT, I met and learned so very much from the array of teachers.  However, there was one person with whom my first meeting I did not look forward to in any way and was not thinking of finding a teacher when I walked into that office on the second floor in the front of DuPont that morning of my sophomore year.
            I will leave the details aside (they may still be in CP records), but let’s just say that I involved myself in a number of other ways of discovering new things as many of our students have and continue to do.  So that day I was called in to meet with the Chief of Police.  As I sat in the waiting area, I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly did not imagine what would transpire.  When I walked in and was greeted and asked to sit and the door was closed behind me, the tension only mounted.  But then it was suddenly relieved as the person who sat across from me began asking me questions about who I was as a person, where I was from, and similar items.  Leaving aside the specifics of the conversation, I still won’t leave aside that there was a rather stern message that was delivered.  It was made quite clear where one crosses a line and makes a mistake.  Yet, the message was delivered with such a personal concern, that I never looked at it as being disciplined, but only as being properly taught.  Yes, I had found another important teacher, and not in an office that I had expected to find one.
            That was, by no means, my only interaction with Chief Jim, but those interactions did change in time as to their purpose and to some extent our roles.  There were interactions to enable social gatherings, and to work to address those various items that arise in a community such as ours.  Throughout those efforts, whether directly with Chief Jim or with those working with him, there was always a clear dedication to the MIT community – allowing it to grow and explore and be itself, yet always working to assure its safety, and in caring for all those individuals who together were the community.
            As I found myself growing in who I was and in my roles here, I was also so fortunate to be able to look on this person as a colleague.  Yet although those interactions had a very different root with different defined roles, in some other ways, those roles never did change.  He was always so willing to be the teacher and to help and to guide.  And he always showed that personal concern for you whenever there was that interaction, whatever that might be.  And those characteristics served our community so very well as Chief Jim helped to teach our evolving community so much during his years as Chief here.  While there was always the need to draw lines of yes and no and work to achieve the base task, these were always worked with a concern for the individual and a concern for the community.  Those basic values lay much of the foundation that one sees in our MIT Police Force today.  There have been changes as society and the associated needs have demanded, yet I believe it is in those changes where the basic values still shine through.
            Even to this day, in dealing with members of our Police, I still sometimes see that certain smile coming from that office on the second floor of DuPont.  And with that I hope you will join me today in returning that smile to someone who contributed so much to each and to all, and in that, simply saying:  “Thank you, Chief Jim……”