Little girls can break your heart and make you cry.
Sometimes it's because they are too beautiful for words.
Sometimes it's because they are hell-bent on ignoring your advice.
Sometimes it's because they are so fragile.
Sometimes it's because they are so brave.
Today is one of those days.
In today's Washington Post, Richard Leiby continues his outstanding work reporting on the ongoing turmoil in Pakistan. It took me almost 15 minutes to get past the opening column on the front page.
MINGORA, PAKISTAN-- Under a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton, the ninth-grade girls clasped their chemistry texts, smoothed their white head scarves and movingly voiced support for the cause of their classmate, Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban last week because she advocated a girl’s right to attend school.I choked up because it reminded me of a conversation I recently had. We were considering the potential risks inherent in a venture under discussion. In an effort to lighten the mood, I jokingly said, "What's the worst that can happen, they kill me?" That's when my associate put his arm around my shoulders and said, "No, the worst that can happen is they kill your family." That's why the next line in Leiby's article undid me.
“In our hearts is the thirst for education,” one 14-year-old told reporters brought to her classroom by the Pakistani military’s public relations wing Monday. “We want to show the world that we are not worried.”
It was a brave but ultimately false front. “We are worried for our lives,” the same girl confided later out of earshot of the army minder. She pleaded that her name and photograph not be used because she feared retribution by the Taliban.That's a terrible place to be.
It's so terrible we routinely avoid talking about it. When we do acknowledge it, we romanticize it in popular culture. It's why Bruce Wayne leads a solitary existence with only Alfred as backup. It's why the Bond Girl always dies. It's the core conflict in all of Peter Parker's confrontations with evil. But for millions of girls around the world, when the lights go out, there is no theme music to set the mood. When the lights come back on, it's not a movie they get to walk away from. Their world is every bit as dangerous as a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Except they can't hide and the guys with guns know where they live.
These are the girls who grow up to become women like Aung San Suu Kyi, Benazhir Bhutto, Corey Aquino, Dorothy Stang, Hawa Aden Mohamed, and countless others. These are the women Hillary Clinton stands with. These are the women Laura Bush stood with. These are the kind of women who inspired Malala Yousafzai.
Unfortunately, not all brave little girls get to grow old gracefully. Sometimes, like Marian and Barbie Fisher, the last thing these little girls ever do reminds those of us who think we're pretty tough that if we were half as brave as they were, we'd be twice the men we are today.
There is no doubt in my mind the president understands this in a fundamental way. It wasn't what he said last night that convinced me. It was the way he said it. I've seen that look before.
I saw it in Queen Rania's eyes when Larry King asked her, shortly after 9/11, if she ever thought about giving up on peace. She said, "I think giving up is irresponsible." What left an indelible mark on me that time will never erase wasn't what she said. It was the look in her eyes when she said it. The intensity of her glare was mesmerizing. It grabbed you so forcefully you knew in your bones that as long as she drew breath, she would not be stopped. Look into President Obama's eyes when he addresses the Benghazi question and that is what you will see.
That matters to me because I have long wondered if there was anything this president would fight for -- even if it meant losing. I think we got a peek at the warrior within last night. Those who dwell in darkness are in for a rude awakening if they think he is bluffing.
When I was younger, we had a term for people who displayed that indefatigable intensity. We called them "Komodo Dragons" because they never stopped fighting, even when you had them down on the ground. You could hit them with a brick and it wouldn't slow them down. You could put a wall in front of them and that won't stop them. They go over it, under it, or through it. The only way to stop them is to kill them. That's not an intensity you fake.
In today's over-amped blockbuster movies, the heroes are guys on steroids screaming and yelling and wreaking havoc. But like so much we see in the movies, life just ain't like that. If I had to pick a movie character more accurately in line with the real deal, I would pick Gary Cooper. In a lot of ways Obama reminds me of Gary Cooper. Watching the president last night he clearly displayed iron determination to push back against those who would drag us into darkness. He doesn't have the John Wayne swagger. But that's ok. Everyone knows John Wayne was just pretending to be Ted Williams.
This ain't no movie. This ain't no disco. This ain't no foolin' around.