I didn’t know Kayla Mueller personally, but she has sat with me at tables and in meetings here in the last town where she lived before being taken captive. There in my peripheral vision – unknown but entirely recognizable.
I arrived several months after Kayla disappeared into the confusion and ferocity that has become Syria. But as the head of a humanitarian organization, I work in the same community in which she worked and people who were her friends are my friends. And I recognize her – she is a type and I know the type. I lead an organization filled with these types and perhaps was one myself decades ago – young; so psychologically, intellectually, and physically complete that she had time, energy, compassion, creativity, and a sense of justice in spades – enough to share with people who needed those qualities; very American in her sense of fairness and that one should just get out there and put one’s shoulder to the wheel; democratic in a belief that many people trying in small ways can make a big difference. Yes, I think I recognize her. But I don’t know her – to say so would transform her from complex, nuanced multi-dimensionality – the person her parents know – to something flat and of my own creation. An insult, particularly in this hour where she deserves respect.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mueller,
As a humanitarian worker, I say that Kayla was too young and too promising to be foreshortened in this way, but that she and her work matter to people here in the last place where she lived and worked. She lived the life we all wish to live – a life that had meaning. A life of generous wishes and action for others on the planet not blessed with the opportunities that she enjoyed.
As an American, I say that Kayla represented what makes me proud of being American and things of which I am grateful to be reminded. Her sense of fairness and activism and her unquestioning courage to just get up and out and to try to make a difference – this quality isn’t unique to Americans but it is a distinctive attribute. No, her innocence and her good will failed to protect her. But they stand in testimony to a young American who cared about inequality and suffering.
As a director, I say that Kayla was the kind of young professional that we all cherish. Her price is far above rubies, the staff member who is inspired, passionate, caring, creative, and committed. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
As a mother, my heart breaks with yours. All these months of her ephemeral presence at tables and in meetings with us, we wondered where she was and how she was. Our pondering could only have been a shard of yours. And now as I am grieved that she will not be coming home to watch the daffodils push up from the spring ground, I know that for you she will eternally be your daffodil, pushing up from the spring ground of a parent’s heart that can never, ever forget.
Mr. and Mrs. Mueller. My deepest condolences.
Martha Meyers is Country Director for Save the Children, Syria Response.