April 1, 2015: Hope Springs Eternal
I think it’s worth telling Ariela’s story. It’s a story of hope, despite some of the gruesome details. We could use a little bit of hope around here these days. Remember what I wrote about faith and hope and reason a few days ago? After seeing what we’ve seen … I think all three are waning a bit.
Ariela’s story begins as a half-Hispanic girl with no father is born in a small Midwestern town. Growing up without a father, regardless of any other circumstances, is certainly difficult. In Ariela’s case, her “uncle” Fernando Hernandez stepped into the role. For better or worse, Ariela grew up in Fernando’s shadow.
Fernando, as you may recall from my earlier entries, was the leader of a powerful gang of drug dealers, thugs and murderers. Based on that “family”, one might expect the apple to fall very near to the base of the tree. Quite the contrary, it seems that Ariela has fallen into another field entirely.
Rather than turning to her somewhat questionable roots, Ariela recalls enjoying school, making good grades, participating in athletics – volleyball, track and cross-country, specifically – and looking forward to attending college. As it turns out, instead of attending college, Ariela enlisted in the Marines. However, this is one of the gaps in her memory that she cannot fill. For the life of her, Ariela cannot recall what prompted her to enlist in the Marines rather than attending college. She assumes that Fernando would have helped her pay for college. She recalls working summer jobs and saving money to pay for a fair share of her own schooling. But, Ariela simply cannot piece together what happened to push her in the direction of the Marines and away from the university system.
As a Marine, Ariela excelled. She recounted much of her career in the Marines as we drove to and from Omaha and Lincoln. Every bit of her outstanding career was communicated with humility and considerable admiration for those around her who had supported her in her achievements.
Ariela survived two tours in Afghanistan. She worked on a team that strayed well outside the wire, often in positions of forward observation feeding intelligence and analysis back to commanders. I’m sure the analysis provided by Ariela and her teammates did much to support our successes in the Afghan War and prevent the loss of considerable life among U.S. troops. Of course, Ariela would never admit to playing such a critical role but I know enough about the kind of work she did and the kind of troops that were on her team to be pretty confident in my assessment.
After those two tours, Ariela returned home to bury her mother. Before her leave was over the crash hit. She was stranded. There were no communications from her unit. No one answered the phone in her CO’s office. Nothing. It was as if the entire unit had disappeared from the face of the earth.
Ariela knew that several of her teammates had also been back on leave. A few of them, she believed, weren’t that far away. One was from Iowa. Another had family in Kansas. By the time she decided to reach out to them, cell phone service was done for.
Fernando’s son, Enrique, had recruited Ariela to help him run his father’s new business from the National Guard headquarters in Norfolk. Ariela had reluctantly agreed thinking it was best to keep your friends close and your (potential) enemies closer.
Not long after Ariela began working with Enrique, we bombed the armory and she ended up at Fernando’s house torn between pity and suspicion. Ultimately, Fernando lost it. Ariela described in haunting terms his slide into insanity. When we found her, Fernando was hunting her down to kill her … and had nearly succeeded.
I guess there isn’t much in there that sounds very hopeful as I read it back to myself. A beautiful young woman is shot down in the prime of her life by a greedy, back-stabbing nut-job of a drug lord. Yeah, that sounds pretty dismal.
The ray of hope that I see is a strong young woman who pulled herself up out of a quagmire of crime and questionable family ties to proudly serve her country and ultimately survive what could have very easily been a deadly attack. That’s the silver lining that I see in the cloud of Ariela’s life. My hope is that there is a similar thread that runs through the lives of those who’ve survived so far. That they will reach deep inside themselves to find what is good. That they will reach out to help those around them. That they will embrace what little beauty and bounty is left in this cracked up world and seek to revitalize the human spirit through their actions.
Am I hoping for too much? Are people inherently evil? Are the cases like Ariela’s so few and far between that they will never counter-balance the Fernandos and Enriques of the world? I’d like to think not. After all, Ariela did overcome Fernando and Enrique … with a little help from us.
Perhaps that is the key. Maybe if those who are willing to fight for good and do what must be done to thwart evil will band together … possibly through a shared vision and a combined strength we can accomplish what is necessary.
Hope springs eternal.