“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Vonnegut
One week ago it was announced that an American, Abdul-Rahman (formerly Peter) Kassig, who had been captured by ISIS in 2013, had been killed.
My heart broke, as just a few weeks prior my friend Erin had written a beautiful piece about their friendship during her time in Beirut. Her article also goes into detail about his aid work before his capture. It’s an amazing, but painful, read – I truly hope you take the time to read it. I’m proud to know Erin from her time in Boston before travelling for her PhD – she’s bright, amazing, and caring. And it cuts to my core that she’s suffering, and his friends and family are suffering, in the worst way possible. I’m a parent, and I can’t imagine how his parents are even sitting upright in the morning. How anyone survives day to day in the face of such unimaginable grief is a thing my brain cannot even comprehend.
What struck me immediately about Abdul-Rahman’s life was his sheer selflessness. He wasn’t a tourist. He wasn’t in this for selfish reasons. In the face of a horrid war, he was not satisfied until he helped get medical supplies and help to the wounded civilians who needed them most. How many of us would take that risk? How many would have done what he did? He put his life on the line to help people he didn’t know. He knew the risks, and he did it anyway. He knew he had a higher calling.
After horrible incidents of unspeakable evil, there is always the refrain that Mr. Rogers (patron saint of generation X and now the millenials) popularized – look for the helpers. Instead of wallowing in the unfairness, the pain, the violence, the hatred – turn that focus on the helpers. The folks who made a difference. The people who care about the most vulnerable of humanity so much that they are willing to put their lives on the line for it.
And Kassig was that person. He didn’t have to take those risks. He could have stayed home and helped here. He could have remained in college, remained an Army Ranger. He could have stayed helping Palestinians at a refugee camp as he had been doing, but he knew there was nearly no one helping injured Syrians. And he knew they needed help. He went out on a limb to tend to the most vulnerable. He was a helper to the utmost degree.
His life is an amazing legacy. You can kill a person, but you cannot kill the light they brought to the world. You can’t erase their love, their mission, or their determination. ISIS killed Abdul-Rahman Kassig, but they can’t destroy who he was. They can’t take back the lives he touched, the lives he changed, or the friends he made.
We could all learn so much from his legacy.