American journalist Jim Foley loved life.
This week, that love cost him his life.
As his life expanded from the serenity of an idyllic New Hampshire childhood, so did the canvas upon which he sought to shine light .
His youth in America’s Granite State proudly known as “queen by reason of her motherhood of great men” propelled Jim Foley to a career in which he would become one of his generation’s most courageous, prolific messengers.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in history from Marquette University and an MFA in creative writing from UMassAmherst, Jim Foley headed to Phoenix to teach reading and writing to struggling inner-city students through the Teach for America program.
When First Lady Laura Bush visited Teach for America in Phoenix, she said:
“There aren’t many jobs where hero and best friend are part of the job description. And there are few careers that have such a lasting effect on an entire generation and an entire nation. Teachers fill children’s lives with hope, learning and love – not just on school days, but every day of their life.”
Jim Foley was that hero and best friend, not just for the children of Phoenix, but also for many more of America’s most forgotten whose lives led them to become inmates surviving within the harsh, heavy metal walls of Chicago’s Cook County Sheriff’s Department.
The front lines of poverty in Phoenix and merciless walls of Chicago’s jails fueled a passion within Jim Foley to tell the very real stories of the world’s most vulnerable children, families and communities.
In 2007, at the age of 35, he enrolled in Northwestern University’s Journalism program. His first assignment after completing Northwestern’s conflict reporting course and graduating from the program was to embed with the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan.
Jim’s father, John Foley, said his son “finally had found his passion.”
“Journalists play a vital role in bringing the light of truth to darkness of war and suffering … Jim convinced us that on the ground reporting was one of the best ways to let the world know the truth,” his father said.
Diane Foley, Jim’s mother, said, “The more he worked with the disadvantaged in Phoenix and Chicago, which he also was passionate about, he realized that the stories he wanted to tell were real stories—stories about people’s lives—and he saw journalism as a vehicle for talking about what’s really happening in the world.”
While covering the civil war in Libya, Jim Foley was taken hostage in 2011. He was held for six weeks before being released and eventually returning to the Marquette University campus to talk about his experience.
Despite his harrowing ordeal, Jim Foley courageously returned to the Middle East to learn and share the story of Syria’s children and families caught within a hell that had claimed more than 150,000 lives.
On Thanksgiving Day in 2012, Jim Foley was again taken hostage while reporting on the carnage of the besieged, ancient Syrian city of Aleppo.
After learning of her son’s barbarous murder broadcast worldwide through social media by ISIL terrorists, Diane Foley said her son “gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
She urged the murderers who ruthlessly beheaded Jim Foley to spare the lives of other journalists.
“Like Jim, they are innocents,” Diane Foley wrote. “They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.”
It’s difficult to imagine the plea of a grieving mother will have meaning to a savage killer or other terrorists who broadcast and celebrate the murder of innocents.
That is the very nature of terrorism; the intentional murder of civilians who play no role in combat and exercise no influence over policy decisions of the nations in which they were born.
Jim Foley’s execution painfully reveals the barbarism of violence directed against the most innocent and the reality of a cancer that continues its deadly march.
Jim Foley died because he loved life.
He died because he bravely followed his calling to tell the stories of those suffering within the world’s darkest recesses.
He died because the world has not yet fully comes to terms with the global threat of terrorists who dream of spreading their bloodthirst across the globe.
Jim Foley’s torture and torment is over. Yet the pain of his loss will undoubtedly remain ever-present for those who loved him for the rest of their lives.
May he rest in peace and each of those who mourn his death be comforted by the meaning and contributions of his life, knowing he has gone on to witness and shine light from an even larger canvas.
New Hampshire remains the queen of great men.
(A version of this post was originally published on FatherhoodChannel.com)