A few days ago, a friend wondered–with regard to the American woman who was crushed by a bulldozer in Gaza last March–why anyone would be foolish enough to put themselves in a bulldozer’s path. Didn’t she know that of course the bulldozer wouldn’t stop?

I had no coherent answer for her at the time, and only later did I realize it was because one couldn’t answer the question in the generic: why would anyone do this?–but only in the specific: why had this woman done this? I hadn’t followed the story closely; at the time I couldn’t even remember the activist’s name: Rachel Corrie.

Then today, as I pulled in to a coffee shop to do some writing, I caught a commencement address. As I listened, I realized that Corrie’s mother, Cindy Corrie, was accepting her daughter’s degree from Evergreen State College.

I knew as I stopped the car I wasn’t getting out yet. I sat there, and I listened.

So now I have two answers to my friend’s question. One, that wasn’t the first time Corrie had put herself in front of a bulldozer, along with other activists (Israeli, American, and Palestinian alike). All those other times, the bulldozers did stop, and local wells were successfully saved.

Second, since her daughter’s death Cindy Corrie has received emails from Palestinians in the occupied territories who’ve decided to commit themselves to working nonviolently–because of her daughter.

I’m not so confident in my own beliefs as to say beyond doubting that a human life is worth these things. But it might be.

This was a hard speech to listen to.

Cindy Corrie spoke much less about her own loss than about the causes her daughter had spoken for. She urged graduates to do their own part, in their own ways, to help heal the world. Her voice only came near to breaking once or twice, never enough to stop her speaking.

And I kept thinking about the courage that took–a courage almost beyond imagining.

A courage as great, in its way, as the courage it takes to stand in front of a bulldozer.

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