Y Misc. Essays - Marla Ruzicka: The Best There Ever Was
(Note: After reading of the death of Marla Ruzicka in Baghdad in April 2005, I felt compelled to write this essay. More information is readily available about this remarkable young woman at the website of the organization she founded http://www.civicworldwide.org and Wikipedia.)
I didn't knowMarlaRuzicka. Nevertheless I am compelled to read what I can find about her, and to write to understand. Each glowing tribute leaves something important unsaid. Last night, while watching the Robert Redford and Glenn Close movie, The Natural, another insight became clear.
The stories aboutMarladescribe how easily and strongly she connected with everyone: Afghans and Iraqis, conservatives and liberals, children and adults, injured civilians and soldiers, journalists and politicians. The tributes come from those she helped, everyone she encountered, and some like myself who read about her. She has earned the praise of childhood friends and senior statesmen, photographers and ambassadors, decorated veterans and pacifists, lawyers and retirees.
Speeches portrayMarlaas having the determination of an Olympic athlete, the wisdom of an experienced businessman, the impish playfulness of a teenage babysitter, the instincts of a seasoned politician, a cheerleader's good looks, and the empathy of Mother Theresa. These talents were focused on persuading America to keep faith with its fundamental values by accepting responsibility for children and innocent civilians (non-combatants) injured in war.
Journalist Steve Cooper claimsMarlabreathed life back into a horribly injured child he had judged to be among the "living dead." The Iraqi Ambassador to the UN thankedMarla's family for her sacrifice. Soldiers appreciatedMarla's having taught them to see beauty in Baghdad and helping them do their jobs. Reporter Peter Bergen reminded us that no man can have a greater love than to lay down his life for his fellow man. Afghan American Masuda Sultan counted thousands of Afghans thatMarlahelped. Kevin Kellems, former spokesperson for Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, praisedMarlaas a unifier and a gift to her age. An eloquent post by Lance Etchison mentions how muchMarlaenjoyed discussing fashion with him. UPI reporter Shaun Waterman wantedMarlato teach his son to rollerblade. On one of the CIVIC videos,Marlablows on a laughing child's tummy to make an unintelligible noise.Marla's magic touched the soul of everyone she met.
Consider the lessons we try to teach our children: be yourself, follow your heart, do the right thing.Marlapracticed them. In Plato's dialogues, Socrates teaches the sophists lessons about virtue.Marlaknew them. Immanuel Kant instructs us to treat everyone as an end in herself and not as a means, and to act on universal maxims.Marlalived them.
Marla's accomplishments are enormous. She saved lives. She renewed hope in thousands of people living in devastated communities. She persuaded the most powerful military machine, the most powerful democracy in the history of the world, to admit that it had done something wrong that needed correction. It had injured innocent people. The victims deserved compensation. She was featured on CNN and Nightline at age 26. She was feted in major newspapers and magazines. She died at 28. How can we appreciate what she achieved in her short life? What can be accomplished by age 28?
Most of our successes by age 28 are rather ordinary. Other than actors, rock stars and athletes, few are celebrated for accomplishments by age 28. To whom can we compareMarla?
At age 26, Martin Luther King, Jr., received his Ph.D., and had begun working on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Albert Einstein had just begun writing. At age 27, Isaac Newton was appointed chair of mathematics at Trinity. Their major successes would come in later decades of their lives.
While 28, Gandhi and his family suffered one attack in South Africa, Abraham Lincoln was admitted to the practice of law in Illinois, and George Washington served as an aide to British General Braddock. At 29, John Kennedy was elected to Congress. Mother Theresa took her final vows as a nun at 27, went to Calcutta at age 37, and founded her order at age 40.
By 28,Marlaachieved more: she had persuaded the most powerful empire in history to recognize and take responsibility for mistakes, grievous mistakes.
Must we really look as far back as Joan of Arc and Alexander the Great to find anyone with comparable impact? (Unlike Joan and Alexander,Marlahad no weapons, no army.)
At the end of The Natural, Glenn Close consoles Robert Redford about his past choices with her belief that we get two lives: "one to learn with, and one to live with." Robert Redford says that he wants to be known as "the best there ever was."
MarlaRuzickadidn't need a life for learning, she already knew. She knew who she was. She knew how to love. She knew how to connect with anyone and everyone. She knew how to do the right thing. She knew how to speak truth so that power would listen.
PerhapsMarlais speaking to us, asking that we use her life as the one with which to learn. Might she be asking us to use the rest of our lives as she did: loving children, caring for the injured, admitting mistakes, wearing the clothes we want and keeping the friends we want, rollerblading where we want, following our hearts and doing the right thing?
We can study howMarlachose to live, the lives she renewed, the injured she healed, the hearts she touched, the friends she inspired, or what she accomplished. By any measure and in comparison to any standard, it can be said:
"That wasMarlaRuzicka. She was the best there ever was."