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paul rusesabagina and don cheadle

Hotel Rwanda and Open Adoption Parenting

A few years ago I was teaching World Geography to middle school kids. We’d done a unit on the phenomenon of genocide, and at about the same time Paul Rusesabagina came to our city for a speaking engagement. I organized a field trip, and we all heard the first person account of the hotel manager who sheltered Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.

Truly, his story is remarkable. At risk of his safety and that of his family, Paul Rusesabagina (played in the film Hotel Rwanda by Don Cheadle) used his connections and wiles to save more than a thousand refugees. Think the Schindler’s List of Africa.

paul rusesabagina and don cheadle

The audience was full of gushing praise for him. Each person who got up to ask a question at the end of Paul Rusesabagina’s presentation began with some version of, “You are extraordinary.” or “You are exceptional.” or “You are amazing — I would never be able to be so brave.”

With each of these proclamations, I saw Paul Rusesabagina slump a little. Each time, he protested, “No, I’m not. My point is that I am just like you — in extraordinary times, we all can be extraordinary. We all have it in us, and I am proof of that.”

Still, the audience continued to set him apart.

I left the auditorium that day feeling sad for Paul Rusesabagina, who looked a bit lonely, a bit defeated in the way his message had been received. Who, as if to make my point, titled his book An Ordinary Man.

Now, on to open adoption parenting.

Thank you all so much for your feedback on my recent post about open adoption parenting.

But. And I say this with great affection. Some of you missed the point. The conversation I had with Tessa was not the result of me being an all-wise mom (I’m not). Or because I am more mature, thoughtful, ego-less than the average Jane (most definitely not).

It’s just that in one moment, I stopped long enough to tune into deeper wisdom. I lived from my heart, not my fears.

And you can, too.

Don’t tell me, any of you who are or will be parents, that you wouldn’t run into a burning building to rescue your child. Don’t tell me that you wouldn’t jump in front of a bus to prevent your child from being hit. We say it all the time — this type of love transcends all. And in a moment where you’re called on to do something heroic, you would not think twice.

So why would you react any differently with the relatively minor thing of resolving your own fears and insecurities for the sake of your child?

Maybe the way I handled Tessa’s question was incredible, extraordinary, remarkable. But, over and over again, incredible, extraordinary, remarkable things are done by ordinary people.

Like you.

Image of Don Cheadle via Bob Beklan [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Image of Paul Rusesabagina via Jesse Jackson, Jr. in the Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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15 Responses

  1. You’re one of the most (extraordinary) ordinary (amazing)ladies I’ve ever met. I totally agree, if/when the time comes, we all have the ability to do some amazing things.. even beyond our wildest dreams!

    I think if we surround ourselves with the positive in life, it’s gotta rub off. Another reason Chihuahuas like me appreciate being able to run with your pack of Great Danes (Dames?).


  2. I get where you’re coming from cuz even on the exercise people will be very complimentary (re continuing on during exercise), and while it’s nice to be acknowledged, I also feel like, “well, you could do it too?” – cuz they could. IT’s just all in how you decide to approach it. It’s ABOUT deciding to approach, rather than just jumping in.

  3. Great point, Lori. I always find myself irked when people tell me (or other infertiles/loss moms) stuff like, “Oh, you’re so brave,” or “I don’t think I could survive if something like that happened to me.”

    Well, yes, you can. When push comes to shove, all of us (well, the vast majority of us, anyway…!) are all much stronger and wiser and braver than we give ourselves credit for. Ordinary people do extraordinary things in unbelievable situations, every single day. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Because of the work I’ve done the past 10 years, I’ve often been told, “I could never clean up poop/work in a cracked out neighborhood/stand seeing someone’s innards/tolerate working with the mentally ill/etc. It saddens me, because I think there are many more people who could do the work I’ve chosen, only they think it takes some innate gift to do so. And it doesn’t. I don’t enjoy wiping a behind, but I suck it up and do it with kindness. I was certainly not born naturally gifted at heinie-wiping.

    I think if you looked in the past of anyone who seems to have done something extraordinary, you will see hundreds of small choices to try harder, learn more, and stretch their abilities into areas they may find discomfort.

  5. But I think his point is also that you don’t know what you’d do in the moment. That is usually doesn’t start with 1000 refugees at your door. It starts with one and then it becomes two and then you start realizing the power you have to help others and it builds. And I think the same thing comes with parenting and we marveled at that moment because you landed it. You had that perfect moment, which is not to say that all parenting moments are perfect, but when you nail it, you nail it. And you gave me so much to think about with that post and where I let myself go sometimes and how to bring it back to the child.

  6. You know how some people can cook and some people burn water? Some people understand astrophysics and some people can look at your face and give you the perfect hair cut?

    I agree that people can and will do extraordinary things when the situation requires it. But, I respectfully disagree that all of us are capable of doing the same kind of extraordinary things.

    I could never shelter a thousand refugees…not because I wouldn’t want to but because my personality and lifestyle is such that I don’t have the connections or resources to do so. I wouldn’t know how to sweet talk the right person or who to bribe. These are not my talents. In fact, I would likely get people killed because I am tactless and undiplomatic – speaking the truth without thinking about how to phrase it politely. On the other hand, I would probably have made Paul Rusesabagina comfortable because I would have said something like “Who knew that spending all that time sucking up to and taking crap from a**holes would have paid off so well?”

    So, that’s why I say you’re amazing. I am recognizing your particular talent to put your fears and insecurities aside for the sake of others (Tessa and Crystal). That’s why I think Paul Rusesabagina is incredible – because his talent for soothing egos and meeting needs enabled him to find a way to help people.

    I’m not saying I don’t have talents, but they certainly do not lie in the arena of interpersonal relations. Please take your credit, because it is certainly well earned.

  7. Having my three kids 17 months apart (a single and then twins 17 months later), people ask me, “How did you do it?”

    There really is no extraordinary answer. “I guess I just did it…cuz it needed to be done…”

    And although my acts don’t feel extraordinary, I still gaze in wonder when I see a woman with multiple small children and wonder, “How does she do it?” OR “I remember being that tired,” OR “Thank goodness that’s behind me.”

    Maybe it looks more extraordinary from the outside???

  8. “over and over again, incredible, extraordinary, remarkable things are done by ordinary people.”

    Preach it sister!

  9. Hi Phoebe.

    It’s not that I can’t/don’t accept the accolades. My point was that we all have it within us to rise to an occasion.

    The “yay, you” messages from the original post felt great, and I loved receiving them.

    But the “you-are-better-than-me-I-could-never-do-that” messages are the ones I address here on this post.

  10. Of course we are all ordinary people that can do extraordinary thing, but not all of us can put our egos aside to do that extraordinary thing. You are an extraordinary mom. It’s ok to get that kind of praise. Maybe you should ask yourself why you are having a hard time receiving it? It is as much a gift to receive as it is to give.

  11. So true. As mothers we all strive to be heros… hope that our children will view us as extrordinary… and that when we are called upon to live up to those standards we do. I don’t think that what you said was any more exceptional then any one of us would or could have done in that position, but it IS awesome that in that moment you lived up to the role of hero in your daughters eyes. I still sing your praises!

  12. Sorry, Kid. I still think it’s remarkable that you were able to keep your head under field conditions and remember (1) Calm, center, open…etc

    I think that’s extraordinary.

    And I really appreciate your sharing it because it reminds me of what’s possible. If I can keep from being swept away in the heat of a stressful moment.

    So, you know anyone who can tattoo that list on the backs of my eyelids?


  13. Just reading this post. I love, love, love how you put it:
    “It’s just that in one moment, I stopped long enough to tune into deeper wisdom. I lived from my heart, not my fears.

    So true. People have commented that I must be a stronger person — hell no, I’m not! I’m a total everyday mom, making lots of mistakes along the way, but just hope that I can help my son with knowing his full self. I would have wanted that for myself if the tables were turned….

    So thank you. I always LOVE reading your posts… 😀

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