A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Tom Fox in the Borders bookstore in Springfield. We spent a little over an hour and half talking about his work in Iraq, his dedication to peace and the path he felt he was called to take. Neither of us had any way of knowing where that path would take him a few months later, nor could he have imagined the impact that conversation has had on me, both personally and professionally.
Tom spoke about his life and his work with directness that told more about his sense of purpose in life than any article, any movie, or tale ever could. He believed in the life he led, in the work he did, in the people of Iraq so much that he put himself in harm’s way for months at a time over the past three years. And while he may not come back to tell us all he learned, all the progress he made, all the stories he heard of suffering and hard work and struggles, his life speaks volumes.
A father of two grown children, Tom left behind a life of respectable hard work as the assistant manager of a department in a Whole Foods, a life of routine and safety, to put himself where he felt needed. He joined the Christian Peacemaker Teams to go into war zones, places by definition rife with danger, where his life would be threatened just by being there. He was trained about the dangers, make no mistake about that. He was warned, he was prepared, he was unwavering in what his mission in life held. He put himself, as CPT members vow, in the way.
Tom was not the first American to die in Iraq. He’s not even the first person outside the war to lose his life there. So what makes his loss different? What can we learn from the life and death of a 54-year-old man?
HE CAN TEACH us about forgiveness. Tom would want us to forgive the person who killed him because his violent death was an act of fear, not an act of terrorism. His capture, along with James Looney, Harmeet Sooden and Norman Kember, his CPT co-workers, was an act of desperation, not one of hatred. The actions of the members of the Swords of Righteousness Brigade have been out of anger at something bigger than these four men. It was retaliation, perhaps, but they picked the wrong people to victimize. He would be quick to point out that thousands of Iraqis have lost loved ones, through kidnapping or death, for decades. He would mention that his death is one of countless others in the name of war. He would not want to be made an example of, he would not want to be seen as anything other than another loss during wartime. He was a soldier for peace.
For the teenagers who knew Tom and spent time with him at Quaker retreats or youth groups, I am so terribly sorry for your loss. Your teacher has brought you to a point where you can follow in his footsteps in whatever way you are meant. His love of life can be found in all of your smiles, the memories you have of him, the stories you share with each other.
For the members of the Langley Hill Friends Meeting, I grieve with you for the loss of your Friend. He was a truly remarkable man who will be missed more than any of us can say. But the life he led was full of light.
For Tom’s children, my heart breaks for you. I have no words to help ease your pain or offer you sufficient comfort. Your father belonged to you more than anyone, and you shared him with all of us. We are so grateful for that, and I hope that might bring you some comfort.
PEACE IS POSSIBLE. We just have to remember that it still exists, it can be found, in time of turmoil and grief and war and seemingly insurmountable pain and suffering. The light is always there, even in the darkest night, the most frightening storm, the most painful tests. Peace is always within reach if you stretch out your hand to find it.