Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Beah's Book

I just finished reading Ishmael Beah's remarkable and harrowing book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. So many lines and passages drilled themselves into my heart, but in entirety, Beah's journey as a boy soldier forced into combat during the Seirra Leone civil war is a more a statement of what might be rather than what has been.

After his tragic ordeal as a soldier has come to an end, and he is able to undergo rehabilitation, Beah is sent to new York to meet with other children from around the globe for a UN conference. He writes about the experience, "It seemed we were transforming our sufferings as we talked about ways to solve their causes and let them be known to the world," (198).

The power of words is not lost on Beah. My mind didn't have to work to visualize this bright young man sitting amidst others who were forced to do things and see things and experience things for which language fails--and yet to see hope etched on his face. To see that in connecting with others and in talking about his experiences, he was able to find that preventing atrocity from being visited upon other children was worth the words.

What is worth our words? How often do we find ourselves sending out words as though they were paper airplanes--not caring what they do, or whether they rip or tear as they journey forth? Readng Ishmael's memoir makes it difficult to come to terms with the ways in which we use language--and how we try to bend meaning so that it will bow to control, rather than love.

I thank Ishmael Beah for the courage to share his own journey, and for implicity asking us to join him in using words to forge hope out of suffering the world over.