Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Stop sweating the small stuff

By Ruwan Teodros

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(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

Sitting comfortably, nestled in my chair in a dark room, I cried while watching the Emmy Award-winning documentary about American war journalist James Foleys’ life. The documentary titled, “Jim: The James Foley Story” was screened at the Integrated Learning Center on Monday night as part of a symposium on Foley’s career and life before he was brutally executed by the Islamic State group in 2014.

Foley was a man that loved life and got everything out of it that he could, beginning his career with Teach for America in Arizona. He would switch his career to journalism later on, getting a degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

He also shares a particularly special connection with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as he graduated from its MFA Program for Poets and Writers in 2003 – a fact unknown to me until very recently.

What made the documentary-screening event particularly special was that Foley’s parents, Diane and John, along with Heather MacDonald, his close friend who co-wrote the documentary, sat in the front row and dedicated some time to answering the audience’s questions after it had finished.

After the first five minutes of the movie and the respectful hush that had silenced the audience and prevented them from so much as peeking at their cell phones, I could tell that Foley had a strong presence even in death.

We watched a young James running around in his backyard and an adolescent James with his three brothers and sister, a glowing smile perpetually on his face. Later he runs around the house with his nephews, still with a childlike spirit even in adulthood.

The documentary concludes, and there is a burning hope inside of me that Foley will survive his capture and that he will once again be free, but alas, we all know how the story really ends.

Diane and John Foley answered the questions posed to them with grace and strength, sometimes almost bringing tears to my eyes again. Leaving the auditorium, I couldn’t shake this unsettling feeling.

Before I went to the event, I was complaining about some assignment or another, complaining that there wasn’t cold drinking water at the gym and further complaining that there wasn’t broccoli in the vegetable options for stir-fry at Hampshire Dining Commons. We often become so consumed by trivial issues that we forget that our circumstances could be far worse.

James Foley’s parents, not to mention James Foley himself, along with the other journalists that were kidnapped and held captive for months on end, went through an ordeal that I could not even begin to imagine experiencing. Watching the story play out and seeing the footage of the Syrian civil war and Libyan uprising that Foley bore witness to brought me to reality for a moment and made me self-reflect.

Watching Foley on the screen seeking out danger time and time again, simply so he could get the truth out to the world about what was going on in these war-stricken countries, struck a chord with me; it made me want to get out of my chair and challenge myself.

Although I did not immediately follow through on the bold decision I had made in my head to stop complaining about the little things and try to live a better life, and I instead went home and marathon-watched Netflix for a while, I did nonetheless learn something profound from the documentary – not too bad for a Monday night.

Ruwan Teodros is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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