Talking to God about Jim Foley and the World

Dear Love:

He’s Jim, not James, not Foley. Jim because that’s what his mom calls him. I’m not a journalist, just a schmo who never heard of the man before yesterday. To me, he’s a terrified guy reading a coerced last statement with remarkable grace. To me, just a dude, a human being, a fellow pilgrim with a handsome head, which, kneeling in his orange get-up, he’s about to lose.

Are you suffering over his end? I’m not even sure an answer would help. I’m doing my morning thing, sipping away at Starbucks, scanning the horizon of another day, already feeling a bit low, trying to get a few words down before heading to the church. I’d planned to write about baking and nursing—happy thoughts—but I can’t breathe right.

“I wish I had more time,” Jim said. “I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed. I guess all in all, I wish I wasn’t American.”

Then a man in a black mask killed him, not with a sympathetic bullet, but with a knife. A six-inch blade? Eight-inch? I can’t tell. Sharp, hopefully. I guess compassion is relative. The ISIS militant could have used a soupspoon or vegetable peeler.

“I wish I wasn’t American.” Jim’s last words. What did the militants do to get the man they had held captive since Thanksgiving Day of 2012 to say that? “Read this statement, or I’ll start with your toes, work up to your balls, and then really hurt you”? Or “Say this, or as soon as I’m finished with you, I’ll bring out your colleague and send him to hell right behind you”? Whatever. An answer here wouldn’t help, either. I don’t care whether he was forced or, after all those months, had Stockholm syndrome.

By don’t care I mean when your children are about to die an extremely shitty death, they get a pass. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer climbing the gallows naked, having said his last words: “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.” He was thirty-nine.

Forty-year-old Jim didn’t get to pick his last words, which pisses me off. It’s one thing to get your head whittled off, another not to get your final say. Such a complete murder! Before losing your life, you must hand over your self.

Breathtaking evil—literally. Like I said, God, I can’t breathe right. Cleansing breaths aren’t working. I won’t go through all the ways your children here are being absolute craps to each other. You know, Lord. So much of your loving touch all around, but the world over, we’re having small-group riots with brass knuckles, switchblades, tear gas, missiles, and fury. We’re killing in the same way we munch potato chips at midnight: we can’t stop.

Folks are putting their hands in air lately: Don’t shoot! Others are pleading: Don’t loot! I’ve got my hands in the air, too, but they’re raised to you. I don’t expect you to do anything. I’m just reaching out for you because, well, I want you to hold me. Your creation hurts in me today.

In a movie I love, a priest says, “If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that.” The might of a bomb, the might of one blade. Don’t worry, Lord, I’m not suicidal. I’ll have a couple glasses of wine tonight; that’s as bad as it will get.

It’s just that I can’t breathe because I keep seeing Jim’s set jaw and pursed lips, steadying himself for when the militant ends his statement. And Jim’s family, so proud of him. Good Lord!

Please tell Jim we all understand. If he needs his head, put it back on for him. And sit with everybody who loves Jim and kiss their despair with what looks at the moment like absurdity: your peace.

Love, John