You'd seen most of your family killed with machetes and guns.
You'd been taken away, marched to the edge of a pit with some other abductees, and left for dead after bullets missed you.
You'd spent hours trying to climb out of the pit, stumbling through blood and guts.
Somehow you survived. You made it from Rwanda to England. Now you want to tell your tale. You can't write in English very well. You need the help of a writer who works with refugees.
Last night I saw Sonja Linden's "I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda" performed by the Salem Repertory Theatre. It was, in a word, remarkable.
Our front row seats offered us an intimate view of Renee Noonan and Ted deChatelet, who played Juliette (the Rwandan) and Simon (the writer).
Linden's play is founded on the reality of an actual woman from Rwanda who saw her family murdered. She sought both healing and a testimonial act in writing about it.
The play is powerful.
Watching Noonan, a marvelous actress, become Juliette for ninety minutes, I was struck by how "acting" of this sort is a misnomer. Noonan's voice, expressions, and mannerisms exactly reflected what she was experiencing. The inside of Noonan/Juliette also was the outside—no evident difference.
By contrast, I'm frequently (if not usually) presenting a face to the world that differs from my subjectively experienced visage. If I'm angry, I try to hide it. If I'm happy, I try to tone down my exuberance. If I'm anxious, I try to appear calm.
With Juliette, what you saw was what she was. When she was sad, it showed. When she was joyful, it showed. Actress Noonan showed this audience member what it is like to not act as anything other than what you are.
Similarly, Juliette dealt with death as it was. There wasn't a single mention of God. Nor, to my recollection, any "why?"
God and why? are meaningless concepts when Hutu killers have been led to your Tutsi family door by a neighbor you considered a good friend, and the U.N. troops you hoped would be protectors ended up firing their guns only at dogs chewing on corpses.
Juliette looked death in the face. She didn't pretty it up, nor did she uglify it. In a moving scene, she lights a candle for each of the family members who were killed.
I liked how she talked about them as realistically as she faced death. They were human beings, not saints. She liked some things about her relatives; she didn't like other things.
Juliette never doubted her feelings. She spoke and lived from the heart, teaching her teacher, Simon, how to write more honestly, just as he was urging her to do the same (the first draft of her book was dry description; Simon drew out from her the perspective of the person behind the describing).
Death is scary. In Rwanda, for almost a million people it was brutal, nasty, painful. To be afraid of dying in that way (or indeed, any way) is normal. To be afraid of being afraid—that's an unnecessary complication.
Just as feeling bad about feeling bad is. Or doubting your doubt. Or being anxious about your anxiety. Reality is best lived simply, not complexly.
There weren't any answers in "I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda." Nor were there any questions. Death doesn't deal in Q and A's.
It is what it is: ugly and beautiful, bad and good, terrifying and delightful, an ending and a beginning. Juliette engaged with death in an authentically human fashion, head-on, with no turning away toward a mythical God or imaginary afterlife.
May we all be so bold. And so honest.