Last week I met John and Diane Foley, the parents of murdered journalist James Foley.
It’s one of those situations you have no idea how to prepare or what to do. What could you possibly say? I felt nervous and afraid to meet them.
I only briefly met their son, but I felt like I needed to tell them something. In my mind, I had to deliver some message of what kind of person he was from my perspective.
I didn’t even know what we were doing until I arrived on campus over the weekend. We were joined by Claire Nowak; Jake Zelinski, the first Marquette University Foley Scholar; and Tom Durkin, Foley’s best friend. We simply sat around a table and got to know each other in a small group.
After sitting with them for more than an hour, I realized I couldn’t say anything that wasn’t already said. I didn’t have to.
People from around the world have already sent their deepest condolences to the Foleys. They told the story of a package that arrived from Ireland that simply said “The Foleys” — without an address — that contained sympathy notes. The U.S. post office forwarded it to their house.
So I listened. They told stories of him growing up in a small Hampshire town, going off to college, playing practical jokes, being transformed by being exposed to social injustice, teaching, and following his heart.
They laughed at memories. There was much more laughter than I expected.
If you take away the international stories, what the Foleys experienced is deeply personal. They lost their son. Not James Foley the journalist, but Jimmy.
The work they are doing today is to help keep other journalists in war zones safe. But it’s also to hear and tell everyday stories of Jim Foley the person, like any other parent would do. For that, all I had to do was sit and listen.
Today is James Foley’s birthday. He would have been 42.
Those who knew him best — his parents, his best friend Tom — are learning how to move forward while keeping his memory alive.
James Foley’s death is a tragedy. We can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said.
But I learned that for anyone who has experienced the worst kind of personal loss, at least we can sit, we can honor, and we can listen.