In my last column, I wrote about a cynical side of American culture—how we flit between controversies on bilious tides of manufactured outrage. Today I write about a better angel of our nature: Kayla Mueller.
The 26-year-old aid worker from Arizona represents the best of this country and her generation: A selfless, spiritual global citizen who gave her life helping others.
"Kayla was a compassionate and devoted humanitarian," said a statement released by her family after confirming that Kayla had been killed while held hostage by the Islamic State. "She dedicated the whole of her young life to helping those in need of freedom, justice, and peace."
The family quoted from a letter Kayla wrote her father on his birthday in 2011:
I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you.
I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.
The next year, Kayla left her Prescott, Ariz., home, drawn by the images of children suffering in the early stages of Syria's civil war. She worked with the Danish Refugee Council and the humanitarian organization Support to Life to help refugees.
Ten days before her 25th birthday, Kayla was captured while leaving a Spanish hospital in Aleppo, Syria, that was staffed by Doctors without Borders. Her Syrian boyfriend was captured, too, and released days later. He returned to Syria in an attempt to persuade ISIS to free Mueller, according to Fox News.
Nearly a year ago, Kayla wrote her family a letter from captivity and gave it to her cellmates, who were later released. Do yourself a favor and read the letter here. Share it with family and friends. Read it to your children and remind them that as scary as the world may seem, as hard as they might think they have it, Kayla saw the worst the world has to offer—and remained the best she could possibly be.
[J]ust the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears. If you could say I have "suffered" at all throughout this whole experience, it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.
I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.
I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another.
None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes.
The thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength. Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God's will we will be together soon.
Kayla was not yet a teenager on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the United States and put Islamic extremism at the center of American life. She is part of a generation shaped by war, hard economic times, and technological transformation—a troika of forces that forged three of the greatest generations in U.S. history: the generation that founded the nation; the generation that elected Abraham Lincoln; and the generation that won World War II.
Today's so-called millennials are the largest generation in American history—one marked by its diversity, tolerance, social entrepreneurship, and dedication to civic engagement that defies national borders. That is Kayla.
In her letter home, she signed off, "All my everything, Kayla." In truth, Kayla is all our everything.