Fejzić and His Cow

I recently came across a moving story of human kindness. I encountered it in a remarkable book that I would recommend to anyone. The book is entitled War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by veteran war correspondent and former divinity student Chris Hedges. The title is misleading—this is anything but a pro-war book. Drawing upon his own encounters with war around the globe, Hedges claims that the reality of war is completely different from the myth of war, and yet the myth is virtually all that is available to those of us who lack firsthand experience. It is what we are fed by the government, by the media, by movies and literature, and by “history.” Once this myth grabs hold of a country, he says, it ignites something deep within human nature, and as a result, nearly everyone gets swept up in the fervor. Under its influence, an inhumanity is unleashed within people that normally lies hidden beneath the order of civil society. Few, he says, are immune to the collective madness.

But there are a few. Hedges tells the story of a Serb couple named Rosa and Drago Sorak, who lived in the Muslim city of Goražde, in Bosnia. When the war in Bosnia broke out in 1992, the Soraks’ people, the Bosnian Serbs, were attacking the Soraks’ neighbors, the Muslims. However, the couple refused to leave, not realizing what that choice would mean. The Serbs attacking their city considered them traitors. The Muslims among whom they lived considered them the enemy. One of their sons was taken away for questioning and never seen again. The other son was struck and killed by a car. They were left childless. Some of their Muslims neighbors wanted to kill them. Gangs of Muslims would come looking for them at night and they would hide until the gangs had passed. They had little to eat.

Five months after the Soraks’ oldest son was taken for questioning, his wife, who lived with them, gave birth to a daughter. But she couldn’t nurse the infant, and they had no food for the infant. For five days they fed her tea. She was dying. Then one morning, a Muslim man, Fadil Fejzić, showed up at their door with a half a liter of milk. He had a cow in a nearby field, which he had to milk in the middle of the night to avoid being shot by Serbian snipers. The Soraks pick up the story:

He came the next morning, and the morning after that, and after that. Other families on the street began to insult him. They told him to give his milk to Muslims, to let the Chetnik children die. He never said a word. He refused our money. He came for 442 days….

It is our duty to always tell this story….Salt, in those days, cost $80 a kilo. The milk he had was precious, all the more so because it was hard to keep animals. He gave us 221 liters. And every year at this time, when it is cold and dark, when we close our eyes, we can hear the boom of the heavy guns and the sound of Fadil Fejzić’s footsteps on the stairs.(pp. 52-53)

Hedges continues:

Despite their anger and loss, [the Soraks] could not listen to other Serbs talking about Muslims, or even recite their own sufferings, without telling of Fejzić and his cow. Here was the power of love. What this illiterate farmer did would color the life of another human being, who might never meet him, long after he was gone. In his act lay an ocean of hope….

The small acts of decency by people such as…Fejzić, a Muslim, in wartime ripple outwards like concentric circles. (pp. 52, 53)

Besides being deeply moved by this story, I couldn’t help being reminded of the article I had just written. It was entitled “Helen and Bill’s Joining: A Window onto the Heart of A Course in Miracles,” and its claim was that the entire Course comes down to those instances in which two people set aside their separate interests and enter into a holy encounter. Like Hedges, I had written of individuals who found themselves encircled by conflict:

Helen and Bill found themselves surrounded by ever-widening circles of interpersonal conflict, first conflict with each other, then with others in their department, then with other departments, and finally with other medical centers. They seemed to be standing on a battlefield that had no boundary.

And like Hedges, I spoke of what happened when those individuals reached out to each other across the divide of their differences:

Just as earlier they had been encircled by concentric rings of discord, now it was as if wave upon wave of healing radiated out from their joining, changing their own lives, healing their personal relationships, and turning around their department. Forty years later, those waves are still going, as the fruit of that joining, A Course in Miracles, reaches into new lives and into new lands. For all we know, those waves will never stop.

In Hedges’ worldview, and in the Course’s as well, the madness is so pervasive that we can’t expect the collective to suddenly turn toward sanity. We can’t expect our leaders to wake up one day and become enlightened. We can’t expect the people to suddenly embrace peace and love and march hand-in-hand into a golden age. While the world is still wreathed in madness, our hope comes, in Hedges’ words, from individuals whose “acts defy the collective psychosis” (p. 48)—defy it not through loud protests, but through quiet deeds of uncommon compassion. As Hedges writes:

The only solace comes from simple acts of kindness. They are the tiny, flickering candles in a cavern of darkness that sustain our common humanity. (p. 116)