As I walked the road to Potočari from Srebrenica I looked down at the ground beneath me and was flooded with emotion. My feet were following the path that the scared, tired and hungry people of Srebrenica had walked two decades prior, seeking relief that instead resulted in massacre. Alongside the road, large haystacks standing like silent sentries, felt like witnesses to the horrors that were perpetrated over five days in July, 1995. With each step I realized that it would be impossible to make sense of all that we had learned and been told over the past 24 hours. How does one make sense of the horror? How does one explain the unconscionable acts that the Serbs perpetrated against the Bosnian Muslims of this tiny, mountainous village?
I’ve spent years mulling over answers to questions like these. The answers I’ve cobbled together have led me to the humble conclusion that we arrive on the planet destined to come face to face with suffering. The spectrum is varied; for some it is suffering of a less egregious form, for others, it is the life-altering, horrifying experience of an Auschwitz or a Srebrenica. Few of us will leave this life unscathed or untouched by tragedy, but we all have options as to how we will endure and carry on.
In Hasan’s case, he has chosen action driven by his sense of destiny. Neither he, nor anyone else we spoke to waste time asking why the atrocities occurred. Hasan is more interested in raising international awareness lest his people be forgotten. His motivation is not one of revenge. He clearly states that he doesn’t feel hatred because he understands that dwelling in that space would only continue to perpetuate his pain. Instead, he talks about acceptance and a near-gratitude because his pain was not as intense as that experienced by other victims of atrocities. For Saliha, the pain endures, intensified by her extreme loneliness. For me, as a mother of three sons who has also experienced the loss of a child, I’m not sure how she endures. But she does.
I walked the road to Potočari thinking about Hasan and Saliha and the depth of love and giving that emanates from their hearts. Bitterness doesn’t dwell in this town because many of these survivors understand that the salve for their intense pain does not lie in seeking retaliation, it lies in the Bosnian understanding that we are all human beings destined to live out our soul’s purpose or -sudbina. Their gift to all of us is a reminder of the preciousness of this life and how important it is to be awake and fully present every day because there are no guarantees for tomorrow.