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In Tribute

April 24, 2006

Here it is more than one month after Tom Fox’s body was found dumped in a trash strewn street in west Baghdad . Most of the time my mind still grapples with the thought that this man’s brilliant light has been extinguished, that never again will any of us get to bask in the warmth of his infectious smile or share amazement at his knowledge about arcane world facts. None of us will be the beneficiaries of the generosity that he showered on not only his own children but the many of us who looked to Tom for guidance, for confidence, for that gentle sincere way that he ushered us toward our own spirituality. Part of my consciousness still tries to understand the captors that could know this man for more than one day and still treat him with such disrespect, such callousness. Did they not see the compassion overflowing in his eyes? Could they not feel the laughter and grace in his heart?

Another part of my mind tries to comprehend what is happening in Iraq and the chaos in which Tom’s death occurred. This one month anniversary of Tom’s death followed just weeks after FCNL co-sponsored a delegation of Iraqis who came to the U.S. to share their perspectives on the situation in their country. The delegation, mostly women, was unique in the cross-section of Iraqi society that it represented. The women’s testimonies, their personal stories, their different versions of reality ripped gapping holes in the picture of Iraq that has been painted for us here in the United States . This conflict is not just about Sunni, Shia and Kurd, it is not just about occupied and occupier and liberator, it is not just about resistors or insurgents. The pain that these women are reeling from, the pain Iraq is reeling from is much deeper and more complex than can be portrayed on the pages of a newspaper or a five minute news reel.

That’s why it is sometimes so baffling to me the seemingly cavalier way in which the United States was set on a collision course with millennia of history, conflict and complexities that make Iraq what it is today. And maybe that is why this past month’s successes for the Iraq peace campaign felt like such a monumental step forward. By including just a few lines in the supplemental spending bill indicating that the U.S. does not intend to have a permanent presence in Iraq, we hinted at an acknowledgment that maybe, just maybe, we don’t know best. We admitted that we don’t understand the complexities of Iraq and never will. It is such a minute detail, a few words on a piece of paper, the culmination of months of work. But there is the potential that it could mean so much more.

Because I live in DC I was lucky to be able to go to Tom’s memorial this past weekend. This was the public service, intended for the news media, for the broader audience that knew Tom in some aspect of his diverse life. But despite the more public feel it was an incredibly moving ceremony. As I sat on the hard pew, focusing on the ceiling in an attempt to fight back the tears that were clogging my throat, I couldn’t help but juxtapose Tom’s death with my reality. I cannot reconcile my work that sometimes feels like it deals with the very fringes of people’s everyday lives, the comforts of the life I lead, my daily interactions with people that are just like me with the example this man lived.

Instead, the challenge becomes how do I not get lost in my own head, in the legislative science of Capitol Hill, in the daily frustrations that so often seem to stand in the way of any real progress. How do I keep my eyes set on my reality of working for change? Maybe not the kind of big monumental change that affects our social conscience, but the kind of change that affects me. In our quest for a change strategy, sometimes we have to look beyond our desire for mountain moving, paradigm shifting change and recognize, even embrace the slow glacial movement of gradual change as the powerful force that it is; the change that comes from the person to person interactions that were the focus, sustenance and example of Tom’s life.

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