Tears of my Soul, a heart-wrenching autobiography about one man’s experience in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime, where over 1/5 of the country was executed or starved to death from 1975 to 1979. In it, Himm tells the story of how his family was tortured and killed before his eyes, and also of his subsequent healing process. My friend, who has left for Cambodia to serve long term, encouraged me to read this book to understand why she felt compelled to go. It would be a great understatement to say that her purpose was achieved.
You can read reviews of Tears online (here’s a good article as well). I recommend that you read the book – it concludes with a chapter exploring the nature and purpose of evil that, given the rest of the book, is really appropriate (if anyone in the future asks me about how God can coexist with evil, I’m going to refer him or her to this book). There’s not much else to say about a book like this – it’s written well and the author’s story is worth telling.
Himm’s story reminds me a bit of my class on post-revolution China, where in the 1950′s the government would have people “convict” their former landlords, parade them through town, and often execute them. My grandfather was a land lord, and my father recalls multiple occasions where their house was vandalized for this reason. Fundamentally, it reminds me of when I read Iris Chang’s Rape of Nanking, a book that attempts to describe some of the horrible things that occurred during World War 2. Nanking is not a first-hand account, and the effect of Tears was all the more powerful because of its autobiographical nature. When Himm talked about the wild animals digging up the grave of his family, I was just speechless – it’s those small details that make his story all the more human.
We live in a time where we just don’t experience evil in the same way. I don’t want to say “anymore” because I don’t believe that to be true. Human nature has not fundamentally changed, though our structures have proven to be an effective barrier to evil acts, though not necessarily a force for good. My grandmother, who grew up in China during the bad old days, talks about living as if it were an ends unto itself (have you seen To Live? Great movie). I would agree that traumatic experiences warp a person’s view and understanding of the world, but I think that stories such as the ones I’ve mentioned shed light on the human condition, something that today is obscured beneath layers of plastic and suburban comforts.
Our country certainly has its share of broken families and faces an unshakable loneliness borne of our desire for self-reliance. We can learn a lot from the survivors and warriors among us. Even so, the clarity of hindsight and the sheer magnitude of the atrocities in China and Cambodia give significant power to these particular pain narratives. That’s why I think everyone should read these books.
What are we doing?
I remember feeling a sense of betrayal when I learned about prisoner abuses during the Iraq war. I remember signing petitions and sending e-mails when I learned about the genocide in Darfur. I remember asking “what can I do” after watching a movie about sex/human trafficking. What happened? Is moral outrage an emotion that is only capable of being activated for one week every 12 months? Am I really this powerless to confront the evil in this world? All I can do is keep asking these questions.
Why are things this way? I can only come to the conclusion that work deadens my emotional capacity, and by working, I divert attention away from the cry of my heart, until it loses all power and I begin to view issues like human trafficking as just that: issues. I hope that some day in the future I can pour my heart into something without robbing myself of the things that I care about.
Another thinking point was Reaksa’s recollection of his time in Canada, and in particular how useless the advice of his friends were for his dealing with his bitterness and grief. May I never offer hackneyed advice to someone looking for Truth.
That’s it for tonight – I seem to have a knack for writing blog posts late at night. Also, this blog is so funny – I’m sure that you can tell who the author of each post purely by writing style or subject matter.