Girl Meets World

My Tribute to Anne Smedinghoff

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I never had the honor of meeting Anne Smedinghoff, a Foreign Service colleague who was killed in Afghanistan yesterday.  Even so, she has been on my mind all day.

As it was for Anne, Afghanistan was my second Foreign Service assignment.  She was 25 years old; I was 27 when I served there.  In 2006, perplexed by my enthusiasm at being assigned to Afghanistan, an older colleague told me that I was “too young to have a real sense of my own mortality.”  Like Anne, however, I knew there were risks.  And I knew death was one of them.  I wasn’t too naive to think that it couldn’t happen to me.  While I told all my friends and family, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine,” I simply didn’t know if that was true.

 

All I knew for sure was that Afghanistan and its people would be part of my life’s narrative.  There was no way to know how the chapter would end.

 

One of my last stops in the U.S. before heading to Afghanistan was to my 5-year college reunion.  It was great to have a little fun before heading off to Afghanistan, but I’ll never forget the many strange farewells I got on the last day.  My classmates all knew where I was going.  While I hugged them with the same kind of see-you-soon enthusiasm that I’d have given if on the way back to a corporate job in New York, I soon noticed that my hugs were reciprocated tentatively, weighed down with their fears that this particular hug could be our last.  They tried to be happy for me because they saw how excited I was, but each hug came with a pained smile that betrayed their real thought: “Girl, why are you doing this?”

 

The first few exchanges were just kind of awkward.  After the 20th or so, I found myself alone in the bathroom crying, wondering if this was a sign I shouldn’t get on that plane to Kabul.  Two days later, I was on that plane anyway.  My Mom later told me that after dropping me off at the airport, my Dad went back to his car, sat in the parking lot, and cried.  These fears got the best of all of us at times.

 

I’ve read a number of news pieces about Anne today.  They all speak of her positivity, her sense of adventure, how much she wanted to make a difference.  Although I never met her, in many ways I knew her all the same.

 

Anne’s spirit is one that is familiar to me.  I see it daily in the colleagues with whom I work.  That positivity that even the uninspiring grind of a slow-churning bureaucracy can’t snuff out.  The sense of adventure that makes a day trip down to Zabul province sound wildly exciting, even with the accompanying motion sickness on the helo ride down, the back soreness that follows a day of walking around with a heavy flack jacket that wasn’t designed to fit around breasts, and the persistent dust that will never quite come out of your clothes and shoes afterwards.

 

Most of all, I recognize that yearning to do something in your life that will make a difference in someone else’s.  You read the media stories, both positive and negative, about what our government is doing in Afghanistan and how it is impacting Afghan lives.  Something in you says “Go see the truth with your own eyes” and it ultimately compels you to volunteer for a post in Afghanistan … or Iraq … or Pakistan … or Libya.

 

Anne was on a trip in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan when she was killed. While it’s true that U.S. diplomats in Kabul spend most of their hours behind the tightly guarded walls of the U.S. Embassy compound, several make a point to leave the compound every day.  After all, we’re not there to sit behind walls, but to interact with Afghans.  And, for us, those rare days when we get a trip to another province — a chance to see the real Afghanistan — are the very best.

 

I’m sure Anne was quite excited to head down to Zabul, to be delivering textbooks to local schoolchildren.  To make a real connection to the people whose lives she believed she was working to improve. To see some evidence with her own eyes that our engagement in Afghanistan was worth the risks.  To look for a signs that even though the American presence in Afghanistan has come with many costs for Afghans and Americans alike, on balance, the net impact of our efforts was positive.

 

I’m also sure that as Anne entered that convoy and headed down the road in Zabul, she did what we all did many a day in Afghanistan.  She pushed out that nagging voice in the back of her head that said, “As cool as this experience is, it just might bring me to my doom” by saying, “This is worth the risks.  I’m doing something that makes a difference.”

 

I read a post from a colleague on Facebook who felt compelled to explain this weekend’s outpouring of grief among Foreign Service Officers to our military colleagues.  After all, they deal with exponentially more of these losses on a daily basis and carry on in stride.  To me, however, this grief doesn’t need explaining.

 

Knowing that thousands of other people around the world lose a loved one on any given day never lessens the pain of losing your own.

 

Anne Smedinghoff was one of our own.

 

– Kim McClure

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21 comments on “My Tribute to Anne Smedinghoff

  1. Edward McClure
    April 7, 2013

    When I heard the news yesterday abouth Anne Smedinhoff’s death, my thoughts immediately went in two directions. First I thought of the incredible grief and sense of loss her family must be feeling at that moment. Second, I thought of you and how your life and Anne’s life seemed to have some obvious similarities.

    I felt so bad for her family while at the same time, selfishly felt a sense of relief that your family didn’t have to deal with that type of grief over losing you. We worried daily about your safety, health and well being while you were in Afghanistan. I have no doubt that Anne’s family had the same worries about her.

    As a parent, we can’t imagine how horrible it must be to lose a child. Then you learn of some parent that has lost a child and you try to sympathize as much as you can with them without going over the mental cliff of fear.

    Your blog about Anne is beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I love you dearly and am so proud of you Kim.

    Dad

    • Vivek Jacob
      April 10, 2013

      You are a great Dad, for having given us such a marvelous person.

  2. Patricia Bailes
    April 8, 2013

    Beautiful!!!

  3. Sunderaa
    April 8, 2013

    Thanks for sharing your reflections Kim. God Bless, and keep safe, wherever you are and whatever you do…

  4. Kim Archea
    April 8, 2013

    Kim, you never cease to move me. Such a beautiful post, and your dad’s comment brought tears to my eyes. You honored her memory so well.

  5. Kate Bateman
    April 8, 2013

    Kim, thank you so much for writing this. You took the time to put down, for Anne and us, the thoughts and emotions that are unsettling many people’s minds and hearts. It is so sad, so unspeakably unfair.
    All best to you,
    Kate

  6. Brenda
    April 8, 2013

    Thank you, Kim. You have found the words that are in so many hearts.

  7. Trina Y. Williams
    April 8, 2013

    Kim, what a beautiful display of reality, being in government service of over 20 years, I know exactly what your conveying, I’m so sorry for the loss of such a wonderful individual. However, I’m more thankful and proud of those like yourself, doing great things for our country. We all have our part in this life, but we all don’t move forward in accomplishing all God has called us to. It is a great responsibility to be a blessing for others, and you and Anne Smedinghoff, were doing just that. I commend you, and God bless and be with you through out your journey in Humanitarian service.

    Sincerely,

    Mrs. Trina Y. Williams
    SSG, US. Army Retired.

  8. Natalie
    April 8, 2013

    Really moving, KIm.

  9. Amanda Greene
    April 8, 2013

    Kim, thank you so much for these reflections. The faith that US presence abroad can make a positive difference is one that you all fortify each day with your willingness to risk your lives. I personally respect and appreciate that so much.

  10. Martha
    April 8, 2013

    Thanks for this message, Kim. I was Anne’s CDO and remember the session when she was assigned to Kabul. It was clear that she wanted to go and make a difference there. Even though I never met her in person, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

  11. LarryS
    April 8, 2013

    Truly well-done. You and Anne both exemplify what is best about our civilians serving abroad. And your words here come as close to explaining what that is as any I’ve read.

  12. T. Grencik
    April 8, 2013

    Well said, Kim. Thank you.

  13. Christine
    April 9, 2013

    The world needs more people like like both you and Anne. So thankful for you brave people who offer so much to an unappreciative world.

  14. Strother Murray
    April 9, 2013

    Beautiful, Kim.

  15. YemenEm
    April 9, 2013

    Beautifully written and a wonderful tribute. I’m sure my parents can relate to how yours felt – when I told them I was moving to Yemen to be with my Foreign Service Officer husband, my mom burst in to tears.

  16. Morris Jacobs, President of the Public Diplomacy Council
    April 9, 2013

    Thank you for writing this moving tribute.

  17. Beautifully written. You honor Anne’s memory. Thank you for this piece.

  18. Joan W. Jones
    April 11, 2013

    My heart goes out to all who have been touched by those who have died for our country. I spent 54 years as a FS dependent.

    Joan Wiener Jones

  19. Arash
    April 12, 2013

    I wish the god bless you in pardise i am very thankfull that a forign that haven’t any responsiblety in front of my people but for human kind and having great heart for child of afghanestan that are innocent victim herself i proud of you and i as afghan pray for you that god give you the best place . you ll be alwalys in our mind and in our heart alive you are not died. thank you so much for your beautifull writing .

  20. Emanna Louis
    April 13, 2013

    Beautifully written tribute. God Bless her family and I pray for solace for them and all others grieving the loss of such a selfless young woman.

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