Thought No. 14: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski

"I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all, especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray."

-An excerpt from a letter to Jim Foley's family, written by him, while in captivity

My usual Saturday routine is to get home from the restaurant and – for some unknown reason I –  heat up a can of soup. Just like an orphan out of Oliver Twist, I sip it slowly and relish it. I start scanning the television for something interesting to numb me out – and, on one particular Saturday, I stumbled upon the Jim Foley documentary on HBO. I was instantly engrossed. I went to bed after watching it and woke up the next morning in tears. I knew I was in trouble then. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a sentimental lady, by any stretch of the imagination.

I foggily remember the grotesque beheading of a US man by ISIS – but it was card-catalogued into my subconscious. Filed into the "there is nothing I can do or change about that horror story, so why give it any energy at all?" category of my mind. Just another group of Muslim radicals. It’s a nightmare – but has somehow become “normal” in our everyday lives – like the school shootings. What can we do?  I hate every last bit of it, but I'm helpless and all we can do is bear witness to these atrocities and go on with our day.

The stories shared by Jim's loved ones and inmates are all the same. He was a good man – “too good in fact”, stated one of his fellow prisoners. By all accounts, his goodness never wavered. He was a good son, a good brother and – even while being physically and mentally tortured for two years – he was a good friend and trusted fellow prisoner. He went into dangerous situations, knowing very well that it could end in his death. To Jim, it was something he had to do, to pursue his calling and use his talents to tell the truth.

I have always been fascinated by stories of survival; the triumph of the human spirit over evil.  I take solace in them. Watching these stories reminds me that we can overcome so much. I think, "If he can do it, then I can certainly bare whatever negative situations I've been dealt." But this tale wasn't one of survival. Jim didn’t make it in the end. Good did not triumph over evil. 

Since watching the documentary, I can’t shake this story – and I couldn’t shake it all week. I beg everyone I speak with to watch it, so I can talk about how this has made me feel. Just before I was going into a meeting this week, I was speaking to my sister Mary about it. She said, “Please, Jenny – whatever you do: don’t talk about ISIS. You are starting to sound crazy.”

I know the spell I'm under. The constant replaying of what happened to him will wear off eventually and I’ll stop obsessing about it. I have now accepted the fact that this story has led my mind into troubled waters. I simply need to understand that it's okay if I can’t find a remedy to cure it. Because, after all, aren’t we crazy if watching something like this doesn’t make us go crazy?