I remember how I felt when I was in my 20’s and watched Olympic gymnasts competing on TV; I felt like I had wasted my life. Here were kids who were half my age performing on a level I could never even dream of achieving. I often asked myself: “What have I done with my life?” I experienced some of those same feelings when reading parts of the recently published book: “Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie.” The first entry that made me question my own contributions was Rachel’s insight into why some people do not care about others. When she was around 12 years old she said how she would be if she did not care about others. She wrote: “I’d be unstoppable, untouchable. What a blast! Or would it be?”
For those who don’t know Rachel Corrie's story, she was an activist who died in the line of duty in Rafah, Palestine at the age of 23. She was attempting to stop a house demolition of Palestinian friends by standing in the way of an American made, Israeli bulldozer. Her friends were still inside the house when the bulldozer was approaching. Witnesses say that she was in view of the bulldozer driver and there was a site commander in an armored personnel carrier. While Rachel was merely doing what other activists, both Israeli and non-Israeli, have done, the bulldozer ran over Rachel. Rachel and her fellow activists show that one does not have to use a weapon while wearing a uniform to show valor. The following video link shows graphic examples of activists’ encounters with Israeli forces including a segment on Rachel (activists).
Another example of Rachel’s early insight occurs in a journal entry a couple pages later when she describes our reaction to the homeless as being “brutally well behaved” when we politely ignore their calls for help. She describes the poor as “our sisters and brothers” and she added that that relationship scares us because “we could as easily be them.”
So you see, reading parts of Rachel’s journal made me question how meaningful my earlier life had been. But it is never too late to learn and what I learned from reading Rachel’s journals was to quit staring at the mirror and to look outside the window to see what is both near and beyond the horizon. It’s not that Rachel did not do her fair share of mirror gazing, but she grew out of that. What did she see outside of her window?
She saw her family and her pet cat. She had an older sister Sarah and older brother Chris. She wrote about both. She saw her parents and loved them. She saw her grandparents and wrote about them while they were dying.
She saw ordinary life. She had a best friend in Brigid and a boyfriend named Colin. She had many of the same concerns that her peers had. In one journal entry she wrote for a soldier while in the 6th grade, she wrote that she worried about “grades and makeup.” She eventually saw the good in not getting A’s and celebrated her escape from high school and her life at The Evergreen State College. She struggled with smoking.
She also saw the the mentally ill and the homeless. In fact, she worked with the mentally ill and resented the way we categorize them. She had compassion for homeless and she saw a relationship between their suffering and wisdom. It reminded me of the compassion that the character Sophie Scholl showed in the movie “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.” In that movie, Scholl, while being interrogated for distributing anti-Hitler leaflets, talked about the possible wisdom that those with mental problems might have learned from their suffering.
Rachel saw activism and she saw it early. When she was around 11 years old, she wrote one entry where she said that she wanted to be a “humanitarian activist.” She thought about working for the Peace Corps. She was in the Olympia Movement For Peace And Justice and she had much admiration for ANSWER because of the scope of the issues that they address. In addition, she made astute criticisms of today’s activism on how it lacked “new tactics,” “interorganizational communication,” alternative solutions, and the ability to incorporate peace into justice issues.
She added incisive comments about broadcast news. She saw how the news tells us that we are either “do nothing” dissenters or of people who accept the “current situation.”
She saw many other things but she became known for her vision of what was beyond the horizon. Her glimpse of Palestine led her to travel there to help those in need. One of her achievements in Palestine was to become a myth buster. Her testimony of the kindness and understanding she received from so many Palestinians destroys the myth that Palestinians are nothing but terrorists who hate our freedoms. In fact, Rachel wrote about feeling guilty for being “doted on” by people who suffered so much because of the policies of her government. She also lists the peaceful means of resistance in which the majority of the Palestinians participated.
The other myth Rachel busted was the myth that Israel only acts defensively. She wrote about how all Palestinians, even the women and children, are subject to curfews and sniper fire, such as the Palestinian girl who was shot while attending school. They are all at risk of having their homes shot up or demolished and their land confiscated. They could always be fired on by tanks and their sources of drinking water and livelihood could be destroyed. These are just some of the daily realities of life in the Gaza Strip.
One could describe Rachel Corrie as being a disturbed person but she was not disturbed in a negative sense. Rather, her disturbed state is a prerequisite for world peace because what troubled her was the suffering of others—this is despite the fact that she wanted to live a normal life. So even though she was not a religious person, her willingness to be bothered by those who lived lives of misery led her to imitate Christ as Isaiah described him in Isaiah 53:3-4:
“A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows he carried;”
This part of imitating Christ Rachel did without being told.