Driving past vineyards and rolling green hills I slowly approached Marla Ruzicka's house. The small lakeside home was an image out of a Rockwell painting: beautiful, serene and worlds away from Afghanistan where I first met her nearly four years ago. It was hard to believe that my friend who dedicated herself to working in war zones had grown up in such a sheltered and peaceful place. The contrast was overpowering and only made me admire her more for stretching so far beyond her surroundings to help people in countries that most of her neighbors had never heard of. Marla was still full of suprises.
Marla played many roles. She was a do-gooder to war victims, social maven, matchmaker and caretaker to many by simply taking the time to ask us how we were doing. Every journalist, NGO worker or government official knew Marla.
She kept people's spirits up by organizing weekly parties and never seemed to run out of energy. She made the war zones bearable and was perhaps one of the most selfless and fearless women I have known.
I remember one of the last conversations we had last year when she admitted to me that she was tired. It was obvious to many of us that Marla was so busy taking care of others that she was seriously neglecting herself. She talked about taking some time off but felt guilty about abandoning the the Iraqis she was trying to help. That was the last time we spoke and she promised not to go back to Baghdad until the security improved.
Then this morning at 7 a.m. I got a call telling me she had died. The irony that she was killed trying to help victims of violence is so painful. I still don't want to believe she is gone and yet I already miss her.
Her twin brother Mark told me that she was known in her home town as an activist. On the day Marla graduated and walked across the stage to get her high school diploma someone shouted, "Marla, go out and save the world!"
I don't think for a second Marla ever doubted that she could make a difference and that optimism is a gift she shared with all of us.
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