Apr 21, 2005

Marla Ruzicka: something more than a Hero

I have a bad habit of 'preparing' to do something worthwhile but not quite getting around to it. I've got thousands of ideas of things I think should be done, a handful of which seem pregnant with potential to make the world better. But I had to go to school first, then grad school and then get job to pay down some debt and get some real experience. I've felt much of my life I've been accepting more from the world than giving back: from my parents, from schools, from various governments. And now I feel I'm at a break even point, I'm not really taking any more than I'm giving back to the world. I work my job, pay my bills, and spend money on gadgetry (and soon, travel). And my hope is that I'll soon be on the other side of the balance; I'd like to find a way to be a net benefit to the world around me. All of these seem like perfectly good justifications for delaying good works, and it almost seems like no one could get much meaningfully done by my late twenties.

But its not true. It's not even remotely true. Marla Ruzicka, for one, didn't have the patience to wait and so she got busy doing, and she sure did. She had a long list of accomplishments throughout her life, but some that stand out to me are what she did during this War with Iraq. I've gone to a number of protests, argued with hawkish friends and have moped around generally pissed off about the whole thing. When I read General Tommy Franks 'We don't do body counts.' quote when asked if my government was paying attention to innocent Iraqi victims, I was enraged! I wrote e-mails to listserves, posted on websites then went for a beer and moved on.

Marla, in much the same position I was, did things a little differently. She roped together her meager savings, founded CIVIC and went to Iraq. She, herself, started interviewing people whose family members were killed and started creating a record of what was going on. What the situation of the survivors was, and who needed how much help. And she wasn't all gloom and doom. She was a pixie-like blond Californian who organized parties in Iraq and charmed everyone she met with her gleeful smile.

But did it make any more difference? Hell yes. Since she went over she ultimately is responsible for freeing up $20 million to help these people. She literally went into a war zone, found desperate victims, asked them what they needed, and then got it! And we're not talking about one or two people, she personally interviewed over 2,000 and set up a mechanism to take care of even more. Thats more supernatural than just a hero, she was an angel.

And on April 17th, at age 28 (just a few months older than I) she was killed by a suicide bomber outside of Baghdad. And even though I never knew of her, or even heard of her until the ensuing post mortem media blitz I'm feeling inspired in more ways than one.

I'm glad that Tyler and I have been talking about doing volunteer work during our travels from the beginning. We're thinking about working for Volunteers for Peace, Habitat for Humanity International, and a few smaller organizations we've heard about before we're through. And even though I considered it before, Marlas story has made it even more important to me to find a 'net positive' balance with my life wherever I put down my pack next.

But what this story really triggered in me is frustration that I didn't know she even existed until she died. I'd like to make it a point to learn more about people doing remarkable things when they're still around to be learned from. Not just martyred into legends. And I'd like to share who I find with this weblog.

I'm tempted to say 'God Bless you Marla.' But I think it more accurate to say:
Marla, God blessed us with you.

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