Today I read the story of a Cambodian man named Reaksa S. Himm. Reaksa is a survivor of the 2 million or so Cambodians murdered in the killing fields. When the country fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, anyone who was considered highly educated or a threat to the Khmer were “sent to study” in the jungle. In truth, being “sent to study” was a euphemism for “being sent to death.”
Because Reaksa’s father was a teacher, his entire family was “sent to school.” In the Cambodian countryside (the Killing Fields), Reaksa witnesses the Khmer murder his family; his father, his mother, and 11 of his siblings, including his 2 year old baby brother. Somehow Reaksa miraculously survives, and climbs out of the pit containing the bodies of his family members and several other Cambodians.
He later spends 4 months living in the jungle by himself at the age of 13. Many years later, he makes his way to a refugee camp in Thailand, and writes 90 letters to the Canadian embassy seeking refuge status. In Canada, he studies psychology and Christianity, and he realizes that he suffers PTSD from his experiences in the killing fields. He spends many years seeking different ways to settle his pain, and arrives at the conclusion that the only way to understand his own suffering is to go on a journey to study forgiveness.
Reaksa laments that it is hard to find an answer to pain, but suffering is still a texture of the human condition. He speaks of his difficulties trying to convey his story with his Canadian classmates during his university studies, but at times, fails in getting them to fully understand the depth of his sorrow. During this period in his life, he practices different methods of understanding his post-traumatic stress disorder, but feels dissatisfied by the ‘scientific explanations’ offered by his textbooks. He discovers the wide gap between theory and the practice of forgiveness. He spends his nights talking to the reflection in his mirror about his thoughts until he feels courageous enough to share them with other people.
Reaksa eventually travels back to Cambodia to meet the villagers responsible for the death of family and learn their story. Eventually, he forgives them.
Sorry if this sounds too cookie cutter. There is actually a lot more that happens in between, but please read his story if you have the time. (If you’re wondering why I’m even posting about this at all, Reaksa held a talk today in Vancouver, and by a whim my father attended when our neighbour invited him. My father brought back Reaksa’s book and that’s how I stumbled across this.) Felt like sharing it. Thanks for reading up to this point.