These are almost always pointless endeavours, I know, but who am I to turn up my nose to the offer of 2 free drinks?
So I went.
Locked the bike after my shift and found my way to the second floor of some trendy watering-hole - er "club" on King Street, the kind of place the doors of which I never darken unless driven there by the offer of the aforementioned free beer.
Somehow, I found myself in conversation with Venerand, who had been hired at the same time I was, and so, someone I vaguelly knew. Not close, but friendly, someone with whom I would exchange the time of day before we retreated to our mutual cubicles.
Venerand is from Africa and has lived in Canada some 10 or so years. He lives a couple of hours of Toronto (yes: a hellish commute) and that's about all that I know about him.
He is about my height (short), slim and has greying hair, cropped close. He laughs easily and I've always like him, in the way one likes a person one doesn't know well but feels one would enjoy sharing a beer with.
We shared a beer.
And, at some point, I asked him about his background - When did you come to Canada? and all that.
And he told me a hell of a story.
Venerand is from Burundi, a small (population circa 6,000,000) country in central Africa, bordering Rwanda. Like Rwanda, it is primary inhabited by Tutsi and Hutu people - and largely Christian.
Anyway, in a nutshell, the minority tride (Hutu? Tutsi? I don't remember) came out on top after the Belgians pulled out. An elected government was over-thrown and civel war ensued. Around 1990, another democratic government was elected. Venerand was an MP. The minority - who controlled the military - weren't happy about it.
Long story short, the government was overthrown and Venerand was targetted. They (at least once including people he knew from his own neighbourhood) tried to assisinate him. After the fifth try, he decided to get out (he'd already gotten his wife and kids to Canada).
He had a visa to the US and flew there, then tried to get into Canada.
Turns out that some of his wannabe assasins had also made it to Buffalo and sent a letter to the Canadian government, accusing his of all manner of crimes. When he tried to get into the country, he was told he wasn't welcome, that they (the Canadian government) were conducting an investigation, and that he could try again in a couple of months.
He did. He was allowed in.
What prompts this entry, though, is Venerand himself.
While he told me this remarkable story, he was laughing.
Not only has he forgiven his persocutors, he has shared beers with them. The son of one of his best friends married the daughter of one of his tormentors - he went to the wedding.
I asked him: Aren't you angry? Don't you - on some level - want revenge?
No. (This is all paraphrase, by the way.) No. The violence has to stop. The people who tried to kill him (KILL him!) were kids - teenagers given guns by the army and told he was The Enemy - he said, and there's no point in bringing the hate from one continent to another.
Anyway, I shook my head (more than once) and laughed. "I admire you," I said, thinking: I hope I would have the same attitude were I in your situation, but ... but - by God! - I don't know that I would.
Sometimes, the violence and brutality of humanity makes me want to despeair; but once in a while, I am reminded of the strength and courage of which we are also capable. The same beast that perpetrates the Holocaust also paints Starry Night.