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Strength in What Remains - Tracy Kidder I'm about 4/5 of the way through this book, and I wanted to record my impressions. I love this book. It's heartbreakingly sad but also enheartening and healing, in some inexplicable way. I love Deo, the person whose story this is.

I've felt since the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi that my understanding of and response to this episode was pathetically inadequate. I know that that particular time and place was not special or odd. Things like that can happen anywhere, anytime. A few of the factors that supported such a sequence of events are ignorance, fear, and the severe poverty and desperation of the populations of those two countries. Poor governance, and scare-mongering by unscrupulous elites so that they could remain in power also played a part. But here's the thing: none of us is completely immune from this scenario. Only a small portion of the populations of the two countries were involved in the militias, in the slaughter of their neighbors. Perhaps 2% or 3%, that is all it takes, apparently.

So my deep puzzlement remains. What is it that causes people to give up the rule of law for anomie? And what happens to reestablish the rule of law and normalcy afterward? It's something we as a species really need to understand well, so that we can protect ourselves and each other, and quickly do whatever is needed to put a stop to conditions like this, to rebuild nomie out of anomie. So I've been pondering and worrying the question in the back of my mind ever since, during these last 16 or 17 years.

Riots sometimes have broken out in the US in various places in my lifetime. There was the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s, which happened when I was a young child and unaware of what was going on, yet it could have led to a state of armed violence. It might have been another Northern Ireland, an endless series of attacks and counter-attacks with no political solution for decades. I'm so grateful that it didn't come to that, so grateful that we found reason, found something approaching justice. Not complete justice, not a perfect solution, not by a long way, but something far better than we had before.

This book, though, stretches my heart and extends my sympathies to all the people in the world who live in conditions of intolerable poverty. There's no reason at all that everyone born on our planet shouldn't have access to clean water, to adequate nutrition and medical care, means for prevention and treatment of treatable diseases, decent housing, clothing, adequate parental care, and education. Those are the non-negotiable elements that must be put in place very soon, in the next few decades, to avert human extinction. It's the only thing for a caring and decent civilization to do, and it's also wise and in everyone's self-interest. We simply can't afford to throw away all our human capital anymore.

So as heartbreaking as episodes like this are, as painful to examine carefully, it is necessary that we do open our hearts and minds to these situations and the people who become victims of them. It's possible for us to do that. Our hearts can be stretched wide. There's no limit to the compass of the human heart. We can ask ourselves and expect ourselves to care about all 7 billion humans alive today. It's not beyond our capacities in the least, we just have to accept and open our minds and hearts to receive it.

The book is very well-written and allows the reader to become immersed in the story and forget all about her local time and place, even one that contains seven devastatingly cute 5-week-old kittens. The story is a true one. The implications of it are broad. It gives me a whole lot to think about, how the human mind and spirit overcome impossible trauma, how it's possible to bring to pass great good out of horrible evil, how to transform things that are grievous beyond understanding into building blocks for good things in our future. For, make no mistake, that is the task at hand for the human species today. There have been many genocides throughout our history, but sooner or later, one way or the other, there will be a last genocide. Let's make it come true today.