Sunday, March 23, 2008


I'm surprised to find that it's been over two weeks since I last posted a blog entry. I've been so consumed with uploading music onto my computer that I've neglected to simply sit down and write. Although there's a bunch of things happening in my life I could write about (which is always the case with everyone) I feel stuck finding anything I want to relate at the moment.

Part of the block is because I promised myself months ago to write about Boniface and haven't yet done so. I met Boniface for only an hour three months ago but I've thought about him at least 20 times since then. This seems like an appropriate time to relate the story.

It was the next-to-last day of the year: December 30, 2007. My sister-in-law Kate was about to return to Yale to resume work on her Ph.D. dissertation but for now we were all just taking it easy over the holiday weekend. In a spontaneous moment I decided to take her and the kids to shoot off some fireworks I'd been saving since last summer. Gina elected to stay home so the rest of us piled into the van screaming and giggling and raced over to the nearby Baptist Church baseball field. My goal was to set off about a half-dozen mortars and take off before the neighbors called the police.

We pulled into the parking lot and as we were pouring out of the van to go onto the field I noticed a man walking in the darkness toward us. I wasn't particularly frightened or anxious, just curious about this strange turn of events. He explained in halting English that his car had broken down and the tow truck he had called wanted more money than had originally been agreed upon and he didn't know what to do.

I thought at first it might be some scan but there was indeed a tow truck next to a car on the other side of the parking lot. I told him we were on a mission (the pre-teens were practically jumping with adrenaline and Kate and I weren't too far behind them) and that we were going to shoot off fireworks first. I wasn't sure he understood but that was all the time I could devote to him at the moment.

We raced out to the ball field and set off a succession of tremendously loud percussive mortars that exploded beautifully about 500 feet in the air. These babies were worth all the money I had shelled out for them in Tennessee last summer after whitewater rafting the Ocoee with Lincoln.

weeeeee-BLAMMM!! weeeeee-BLAMMM!!
weeeeee-BLAMMM!! weeeeee-BLAMMM!! weeeeee-BLAMMM!!
"Cheese it you guys before the coppers nab us!" I yelled dramatically. (I was especially enjoying Casey's excited-bordering-on-hysterical thrill at the innocently illicit nature of out shenanigans. My kids are so well-behaved that this was like bank robbery to them.)

We raced back to the van and as we pulled out of the parking lot I passed by the man who had stopped me. It was clear to me he was no scam artist and that he needed help. I yelled out the window that I'd be back in 10 minutes.

I dropped Kate and the kids home and said I'd be back later, then switched from the van to the Chevy (in case somebody had seen and reported our vehicle) and headed back to the church. When I arrived the tow truck was gone and I could see the man I was looking for standing in the dark under some trees. I pulled up and let him see I was the same guy in a different car and asked if he needed a ride.

It turned out he lived in Lawrenceville, about 25 minutes away. I figured this was a perfect opportunity to do something nice and told him to get in. This is what I learned on the trip:

His name was Boniface and he was almost exactly my age. He immigrated to the United States from Rwanda with his wife and children several years earlier to escape the genocide and oppression there. Two of his brothers and their wives and children had been murdered by the Hutus. He had personally witnessed the deaths of friends and neighbors. "Just like 'Hotel Rwanda', you know that movie?" He and his family had recently moved from Tennessee to Atlanta to find better work: he was hoping to land a warehouse job soon. He had that evening driven to Decatur to comfort and assist a new family who had just arrived from Rwanda earlier in the month. His wife and kids were visiting friends in Athens and if I had not given him a ride he would have had to call them to drive well over an hour to get him.

Boniface told me that when the mortars went off in the baseball field "I thought it was a bomb". What had been frivolous, privileged, obnoxious fun to me was a post-traumatic event to him. I didn't feel ashamed but I did feel humble, grateful, sober, human, and momentarily connected with something much larger than myself. Ten minutes earlier or later and I would not have met him.

Soon I was able to drop him off at his doorway, to his great appreciation. Within half an hour I was back at home, surrounded by my family who were safe, well-fed, healthy and secure. I told them about my little adventure and we said a prayer of supplication for the world and gratitude for ourselves.

Someday I may know what it is like to fear bombs and scheme to protect my family from the evil and madness that bullies its way across this earth. Untl then may I never forget or take for granted the blessings of my life.

By the way, the next night, New Year's Eve, I went back to the church with Lincoln at midnight and found at least 50 people there firing off all kinds of fireworks, but none as powerful as our little babies. We set up the mortar tube and brought in the year as true Americans.

No comments: