He stands in front of his brothers on a crisp, fall day, all cute and smiley, wearing an Izod sweater and brown corduroy pants, and I can’t stop looking at the photograph. I never knew James Foley, but the picture seems to capture something about the joy and hope that I imagine was a part of the man he was as well. I look at his face and see an intensity, a maturity, an ability to see things that others miss, which he would learn to capture with his camera years later. Old photographs allow you to see things in someone, even if you never knew the person. I have been thinking about James Foley because of his horrifying death by the hands of ISIS last week. I can’t really get my head around what happened, and the thought of such evil makes me weep.
I also keep thinking about James Foley because my friend Kate grew up with him. He was her little brother’s best friend since elementary school. She knew the boy in that picture, smiling that toothy grin. She watched him play board games and wrestle with her brother and eat spaghetti and meatballs at her kitchen table. She watched him hug her dad as he left for college or came home to visit during the holidays. She heard his laughter and jokes and loved hearing stories about his teaching and travels and photography. She called him Jim.
My heart can’t process what happened to James Foley. I find myself wanting to stay absorbed in less important thoughts, running errands to Target while enjoying a latte from Starbucks. It is difficult to really think about the brutality that is breathing and mocking and screaming in some distant place far away from my life. It feels easier that way.
Easier until I see my friend crying at her desk because James Foley, that once smiling little boy who used to be her brother’s dearest friend, had been executed for all to see.
He had been missing for two years and Kate worried that one day, she might hear news that he had died.
She never dreamed the news would be anything as horrific as this.
I went running in silence this morning. I could hardly form my words and when I tried to pray, words like, “Help” and “Please, Lord,” were the only prayers I could muster.
I thought about Edmund Burke’s quote that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I believe that is true, but I don’t know how to resolve that as I watch the horrors in the world right now. What exactly can I do?
I feel powerless to make any changes.
If you talk to me about politics, I will most likely become tongue tied and unable to counter your arguments.
If you feel like discussing international foreign policy, I might get my geography confused and embarrass myself as my lack of knowledge is clearly exposed.
But if you talk to me about the evil that is rearing its ugly head in so many places near and far these days, I will probably just start to cry.
I will look you in the eye and ask, “Is there anything we can do to make all of this stop?”
What will you say to me then? What answers can you give me that will make me believe that there is hope in the midst of so much evil?
Can we all be okay today without a lot of answers?
And yet here is the hope that still lingers. It bravely shows itself and whispers to all of us so that we won’t forget.
I see it as I stand in front of my friend and see her beautiful heart. I see it in her tears as she cries for the loss of James Foley because she loved him. I see it in her concern for her brother and how much she worries about his pain. I know she will be there for so many people as they grieve this loss. I see it in other colleagues as they surround her and hug her and cry with her and listen as she tells stories about this amazing man.
As I read this Huffington Post article (click here), I smiled to see James Foley embracing his siblings and his life with incredible passion. I took a deep breath and slowly let it out as I read quotes from people who knew him and shared about his compassion, his kindness, his integrity. I am reminded that hope does not mean the absence of pain and tragedy, but a willingness to pursue what you believe in, no matter the cost.
In his case, the cost was horrific, but because of people like James Foley, evil will not prevail. It is with humble gratitude that I honor James Foley today, a man I never knew, but a life I will not forget.(With thanks to Kate for the photograph.)