Who would have thought that being shot in the head would be such a boon! When 16 year old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai took a bullet to her cranium in October last year for speaking out against the Taliban, she can’t have anticipated what a blessing in disguise that piece of metal would be.
A year on, the young campaigner for the education of women has experienced worldwide exposure, won the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize, been invited to the White House by US President Barack Obama himself and released her first book, ‘I Am Malala’.
I wonder if she has that bullet propped on her bedside table and, every so often, she picks it up, rolls it around in her palm, maybe even kisses it and whispers, “Thank you little bullet!”
Malala is an extraordinary girl. I hesitate to use the word ‘girl’ for one who has demonstrated wisdom and courage well beyond her 16 years. Making good of a bad situation takes a lot of character – in fact, it is the very litmus test for character.
For a guy called Joseph, one of the heroes of the Bible, his ‘shot in the head’ came when his brothers sold him into slavery. Talk about making good of a bad situation – out of slavery, Joseph rose to become the most powerful man under his Egyptian master’s authority and was later elevated to even greater position and power, second only to the Pharaoh.
When I brushed up on the account of Joseph’s life found in the book of Genesis, there was a personality trait that rang true with what I have seen of Malala. Joseph did not seek success, privilege and power. He sought only to remain true to the most important thing and, for him, that was his faith in God. This conviction meant he sometimes said things that went against the grain of the culture, things that Pharaoh didn’t want to hear, dangerous things. He spoke out anyway and his brave faith was rewarded.
In Genesis 41 there are two telling verses of Joseph’s first two children; Manasseh, “because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (v.51) and Ephraim, “because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (v.52).
Joseph wasn’t silly. He knew there was a greater purpose being worked out in his life. And later, we read of him literally ‘kissing the bullet’.
During a severe famine Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt to buy grain. To make a long (and intriguing) story short (it’s well worth the read though; Genesis 42-45), Joseph brushed aside his chance at revenge to reconcile with his family. Imagine the shocked and ashamed faces of his brothers when Joseph said, “Hey, it’s me, Joseph, your brother, the one you sold to an Egyptian slave master!”
This is what Joseph said to them, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…” (Genesis 45:5).
People like Malala and Joseph demonstrate that pain has its place, that sometimes the worst is for the best. May they inspire us to kiss the bullets in our own lives.
First published in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 21, 2013.