A couple of weeks ago, I saw a production of the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the university where I work. It's a one-woman show based on the title character's journals and emails.
In case you've forgotten, or in case you never knew, Rachel Corrie was an undergraduate from Olympia, WA. At the age of 23, Rachel joined the International Solidarity Movement, an organization that advocates nonviolently for Palestinians in the occupied territories, and went to Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, where she lived with a Palestinian family. She taught English to the children, but mostly she was there as an international observer. And what she observed disturbed her. Rachel came to love the family she was staying with very much. On March 16, 2003, Rachel was run over by a bulldozer operated by the Israeli military near the family's house and was killed.
Since then, Rachel has been used for political purposes. She has been worshiped as a martyr and vilified as a terrorist supporter. The first New York production of the play had to be canceled after, among other things, demands were made that this vignette of an activist's brief life be balanced by stories of persons who lost their lives to terrorism. Even at the production I attended, a faculty member was asked to "contextualize" the play before we saw it...why? If members of the audience have chosen either to remain comatose or to listen to only one side of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is a formal "contextualization" really going to broaden their understanding? I can do my own contextualization, thank you. I think that Rachel's words should be allowed to speak for themselves.
I saw a young woman who could not help but see that there was a bigger world out there beyond Olympia and who struggled to understand if there was a place for her in that big world and, if so, just what that was. The young college student's diary entries ring true. Even though it's now so long ago, I still remember.
Sure, she was attracted to guys, but she refused to let having or not having a boyfriend define who she was. She wanted to do more with her free time than shop at the malls. She read and actually tried to apply the philosophies and ideas of the authors to her everyday life. I remember that too ...
She took a stand that many disagree with, and she knew that. Everyday I see so many young people afraid to take a stand, afraid to get involved or even to express a strong opinion, afraid of displeasing the powers-that-be. We teach them not to take chances, lest they imperil their possibility of getting good grades and eventually a good job. As Rachel reads messages from her parents, I hear the fear in their voices. They had a daughter who dared to do much more than simply disagree with a professor or a boss. As a parent, I can't even begin to imagine how they feared for her safety, yet they let her make her own decisions. Maybe Rachel was right. Maybe she was wrong. But she certainly did not live life on the sidelines.
Nor did she pick up a gun.
Had she lived, would all those brave ideals have faded? Would she have become a rebel-turned-CEO like Jane Fonda, or would her activism have continued to evolve?
Rachel dared to be an active element in an absurd world. For that alone, I count her brave.