At the age of 23, Rachel Corrie was full of life. At the age of 23, she was a senior in college ignited by a passion for justice. At the age of 23, she traveled to the Gaza strip as an activist for peace. And, it was at the age of 23 that Rachel Corrie knelt to the ground wearing an orange fluorescent jacket as a 9-ton Caterpillar bulldozer came toward her, knocked her down, crushed her with its blade, ran her over, backed up, and ran her over again. At the age of 23, Rachel Corrie was loved by family and friends who would never see her radiant life again.
Rachel was killed trying to prevent the demolition of a civilian home by the Israeli army. Thousands of homes had been demolished, and Rachel along with her companions from the International Solidarity Movement were seeking to prevent further destruction. Through non-violence, this group of international activists was following the lead of Palestinians struggling to end the occupation of their lands.
Activists such as Rachel lived in Palestinian homes with Palestinian families hoping to help fend off attacks and destruction. They used their bodies to send a clear message of solidarity and resistance spelled in the alphabet of arms and legs, torsos and necks, hands and feet. It is this unmistakably human language that Rachel chose to speak in the face of machines programmed for death and devastation.
Of course, Rachel was not the first to die from the angel of death demolition policies carried out by Israel in occupied territories. Far from it, Rachelâ€™s life was only one of many cut short by the sword of this oversized angel which feeds at the trough of US aid. Still, Rachelâ€™s death garnered particular attention because US citizens take note when other US citizens die in the jaws of a winged monster who previously flew in other worlds, not ours. The previous victims were darker and of a foreign people. Our moral radar did not extend to their land and hue.
So, Rachel was not singular in her death, but this does not diminish her bravery. Nor should it diminish what her life can mean to us now. On March 16th, it will have been two years from Rachelâ€™s death, and it is on this day that the memory of Rachelâ€™s life can infuse our own lives with humanness. It is on this day that we can realize our world is also the world of Palestinians. It is on this day that we can realize that our world is also the world of Iraqis and Afghanis. It is on this day that we can look past the small horizons of our small worlds and see the stark, chilling reality of a sky filled with angels of death descending again and again, devouring our world, our humanity.
When we see this death-filled sky, we may choose to look away. We may choose to rationalize a way of focusing our vision elsewhere closer to home. We may say to ourselves, â€œI can do nothingâ€ or â€œThis problem is too big for me.â€ But, this is why Rachelâ€™s life is yet again so important. Rachelâ€™s life continues to this day to serve as proof that you and I can do something.
Yes, Rachel died in doing something, and we need not seek martyrdom. But, what is important is the manner of Rachelâ€™s life before her death. Rachel died doing something that made her fully alive. As long as you or I believe that we canâ€™t pursue peace and justice, we are only partially alive. We are only partial citizens of the planet. We are only sometimes concerned about some people. We are only sometimes loving and compassionate to some humans. In truth, to be only partially alive is to be oneâ€™s own angel of death.
Ultimately, I believe Rachelâ€™s death should not be cause for despair. It should be cause for hope, a hope that each of us can choose to be more fully human despite grim forecasts of probabilities and risks. If we instead remain captive to our doubts and fears, we will only imprison our greatest potential. We will kill our own heroism by handing the keys of fate over to the angels of death.
On March 16th, let us not only remember the life of Rachel Corrie but let us also remember the possibilities of our own life. On March 16th, let us remember that Rachel Corrie at the age of 23 was full of life, a life that can continue to live through us.
(This speech was delivered at a toastmasters club in Berkeley, California. For those living in Berkeley, there will be a celebration of Rachelâ€™s life on March 16th. See www.norcalism.org for details. Brooks Berndt can be reached at [email protected] .)