Rwanda Landscape Wikipedia

Now and then we come across a story, simply told, about someone who opens a chain of thoughts in our own minds.

This is David Brooks’ inspiring story about his friend Clemantine Wamariya. She was born in Rwanda 27 years ago. When she was six the genocide began and her world started shrinking. The beautiful land she knew was changed forever.

To escape the mass murders, Clemantine and her older sister, Claire, were moved from house to house. One night they were told to crawl through a sweet potato field and then walk away—not toward anything, just away. Away from family, home and friends and not to look back. They left with only the clothes they wore and no food.

They crossed the Akanyaru River living off fruit. Clemantine spent the rest of her young girlhood in refugee camps in eight African nations.

Claire kept them on the move, in search of a normal life. Clemantine wrote her name in the dust at various stops, praying somehow a family member would see it. Their struggles in the camps, for water and much else, gave them a sense that life is arbitrary.

In 2000, Claire got them refugee status in the United States through the International Organization for Migration. Claire went to work as a hotel maid in Chicago. A few years later, Clemantine was one of 50 winners of Oprah Winfrey’s high school essay contest.

In the middle of the 20006 show celebrating the winners, Oprah brought Clemantine and Claire on stage. Oprah asked when was the last time the girls had seen their parents. It had been 12 years. Then Oprah gave them a surprise: “Your family is here!” Her parents, brother and sister had been found in Africa, and now walked onstage. They all fell into one another’s arms. Clemantine’s knees gave out, but her mother held her up.

Clemantine’s story, has a comforting arc: separation, perseverance, reunion and joy. It’s the kind of clean, inspiring story that many of us tell, in less dramatic form, about our own lives, with clearly marked moments of struggle and overcoming.

In David Brooks’ words, “Clemantine is now an amazing young woman. Her superb and artful essay reminded me that while the genocide was horrific, the constant mystery of life is how loved ones get along with one another.”

We work hard to cram our lives into legible narratives. But we live in the fog of reality. Whether you have survived a trauma or not, the psyche is still a dark forest of scars and tender spots. Each relationship is intricate, fertile ground for misunderstanding.

Clemantine displays the courage of small things: the courage to live with feelings wide open even after trauma: the maturity to accept unanswerable ambiguity; the ability to create tenacious bonds.

David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, NEW YORK TIMES
July 7, 2015


audrey mabee 2
Painting by Audrey Mabee

I’m always happy when I find that a nice hotel exceeds my expectations, but I get impatient when it has a lamp or TV which doesn’t work, or I can’t figure out the shower controls or if it considers itself too fancy to put in a coffee machine. We’re sometimes more comfortable in a budget motel where our expectations are not as high.

We feel gratitude when some kindness exceeds our expectations or is undeserved. David Brooks says “gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart after some surprising kindness.”.

We’re grateful when some people showed they thought more of us than we thought they did. It is a form of social glue to be repaid forward to another person who also doesn’t deserve it. You’re amazed that life has managed to be as sweet as it is.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that “thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

Life doesn’t surpass our dreams but it nicely surpasses our expectations.


This is a thank you note not only for the gift of a new arm, (shoulder really) on the occasion of the 84th anniversary of my birth, but to all the wonderful friends  and family for the cards, gifts of food, flowers and plants  they have given me .  I could not have survived without the help of my two daughters and Dr. Advice the past 2 1/2 weeks.  My daughters ran my house better than I have been able to do for several months, and Dr. Advice has an ongoing commitment for cooking, housekeeping and anything that requires two hands.  He makes a mean chicken soup when he remembers to put the chicken in it.  I owe my dear dentist nephew a special thanks for coming to my house with temporary help when one of my implants failed.  As the late great comedienne Gilda Radner once said in her inimitable Brooklyn accent upon being diagnosed with cancer “There’s always SOMETHING!”

It will be at least another month before I regain full use of my right arm, so Dr. A. will be busy at least that long.  Who knows, we may just exchange jobs at that time since he has done such a good job.  Meanwhile, typing, eating and writing my name left-handed will have to suffice.  I have always admired ambidextrous people.

In  praise of British mystery writers, I have rediscovered several P.D. James books during my forced inactivity.  David Brooks “The Social Animal” was terrific, and I just received “Swamplandia” by Karen Russell, which I saw reviewed on TV and which was praised for it’s use of language.  We’ll see after I read it.

We had my first “outing” this morning, and those who know me won’t be surprised to know that it was to our local Starbuck’s for the ubiquitous carmel latte with extra whip cream! My favorite columnist David Brooks, was not up to par this morning, which left time to enjoy the passing parade.  There was a fascinating Chinese woman, 70 something, quite thin, with a look of intensity and who seemed thoroughly “plugged in” to her tiny laptop.  Dressed in jeans a cool straw hat with sunglasses perched on top, she somehow didn’t fit the tech mold.  Our Lebanese friend working out his Sudoku was sitting alone in a corner.  He told me several weeks ago to buy our own Starbuck mugs to bring each time we came as you saved 10 cents on each  drink, but I forget them each time we go.  I would keep them in  the car, but I never know which car we will be taking.

Meanwhile, it’s nice to know there is nothing I absolutely HAVE to do the rest of the day, so I think I’ll take a nap.