CC Issue 21 / News / Politics

Three Times a Lady

This photo must show us how Aung San Suu Kyi spent the last twenty years of her life – reading, thinking, planning, waiting. Despite two decades under house arrest or some form of restricted movement, she apparently never lost her poise and patience.

Her endurance is remarkable, and a little uncanny.

Sometimes I hear faith talked about as something that some people have and others don’t, as though having faith was a matter of chance rather than choice. But I think Suu Kyi has shown us what faith really is: the choice to live according to what you believe.

Deep down inside, Suu Kyi believes that every person has a voice that deserves to be heard, and what might be called a “right” to a free life. She sacrificed nearly everything—husband, family, livelihood—rather than compromise and give up her conviction that this is what every one of her countrymen deserved.

Whether her sacrifices were really worth it is very hard to say, but what is clear so far is that her refusal to submit to the ruling military junta contributed immeasurably to the speed at which reforms have come to the country in the last year or so. She represented the people to the junta and to the world, holding out for their right to freedom.

Paradoxically, her refusal to submit was based on something she herself had already submitted to.

Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, the leader of Burma’s opposition independence movement who negotiated independence from the British. When he was assassinated, Suu Kyi received his inheritance as a voice for the people.

In 1988, she returned to Myanmar from Britain to care for her ailing mother, just as the government carried out a brutal crackdown on a fledgling opposition movement. The people rallied around her and entreated her to be their spokesperson and leader, just as her father had been.

I think the choice she had to make must have been similar to what princes used have to face, back when kings had real ruling authority.  A prince had no choice about what he was born into—it was fate, if you like, that put him in a place where the burden of ruling was to fall on his shoulders. His only choice was whether or not to submit to the responsibility of serving the people.

Suu Kyi must have made the same decision, submitting herself to being the people’s representative and serving them with her life.


Somebody pretty smart once said that faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you don’t see.

Maybe the reward of faith, of walking out what you believe, is getting to see what you hope for. If so, Suu Kyi must be feeling pretty rewarded at the moment, though of course there is still a long way to go.

Aung San Suu Kyi will go to Norway next month to receive the Nobel Peace Prize that she was unable to accept in person when it was awarded to her in 1991.

It will be her first trip out of the country in 24 years.

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