I first met Marla Ruzicka ten years ago when she arrived at my doorstep, an enthusiastic 16 or 17 year old with passion and drive to spare, to intern at the Bay Area Fifty Years is Enough Campaign. Although she considered me a mentor, I learned as much (or maybe more) from her.
While many high school teens worry about acceptance and how to obtain the latest hot fashion trend, Marla worried about development policy, loans, foreign aid and how vehicles like the World Bank and the IMF were used to foster U.S. government and corporate interests. While the eyes of many glaze over at the subject of macroeconomic policy, Marla’s lit up. While many confess ignorance regarding the politics of countries beyond our borders, Marla passionately drank in this information. Before reaching her 20th birthday Marla had traveled and learned from local residents in several global south countries.
Although I tried to understand from whence this Lakeport teen’s politics and passion sprang from, she gracefully eluded all such questions.
Marla was charismatic, bubbly and irresistible. Working with her was a blast She knew plenty about the human spirit and ensured that the driest of meetings included an opportunity for playful fun.
When, one day, Marla pulled a manuscript out of her bag and asked me to read and comment on “Marla’s Guide to Youth Organizing,” I wasn’t surprised. By that point I knew there was nothing the girl couldn’t do, if she put her heart and mind to it. And, that is the key to understanding Marla and her very personal brand of activism and humanitarian work, she did bring her whole being--- Heart and Mind--- to everything she touched. I believe that it is her wide-open and clear heart that enabled her to be as successful as she was in her work.
Marla had a great purity of spirit, and an irrepressible one at that. She was motivated by an unrelenting determination to make the world a better and more beautiful place for all its people. Sometime around 2001/ 2002 just prior to her second trip to Afghanistan out of fear for her safety, I tried to talk Marla out of going. Her commitment and determination was fierce. She wouldn’t hear of not going. I think that even then, before it became apparent the important role she would come to play in the Middle East among journalists and injured civilians, some part of me was secretly proud of the courage and drive that enabled her to ignore me and the chorus of others, as well as conventional wisdom.
In saying that Marla had a purity of spirit, I don’t mean to suggest that I think she was saintly. Marla is special because she was so deeply human. She had foibles, doubts, sadness and other very human reactions and emotions. Her openness to life allowed her to experience fully the depth and range of human experiences. At the same time, her fundamental motivations and drivers were selfless.
In thinking of Marla in the early years that I knew her, a story that keeps bubbling up to the surface of my memory is a very personal one. I am reminded of the time I visited with her in Washington DC a year or two after she’d interned with me in the Bay Area. She’d started college and was interning at the DC-based office of the Fifty Years is Enough Campaign. I met up with her one night for dinner and a movie. Marla had a gift for looking to those who’d walked a path before her in any and every aspect of life to learn what wisdom they might have to offer. She’d digest what we had to share, find what was useful in it and make her own way. At the time she was falling in love. She described for me how her whole body would tingle when this man was near. She talked about how her skin would burn for hours after, if he so much as barely brushed her in passing. Marla wanted to know what was happening to her. If it was normal. She made me remember what it was like to feel the passion of first love. For me, this memory is symbolic of the passion and open heart that Marla brought to everything she did…love, activism, humanitarian work
Marla walked her own path. Along the way she brightened the lives of many of us. She will be deeply missed. We can honor her memory every day in every action we take if we think about whether this is a humane course of action and one that will make the world a better place. That might mean looking the homeless panhandler in the eye, talking to a neighbor, lobbying an elected official, or saying hello and meaning it to the clerk who is ringing up our groceries. It might mean doing what we have always done, but being ever more attentive to doing so with an open heart, with love and with respect.
While Marla was interning with me and learning more about macroeconomic policy, open-heartness and respect are what I learned from her.
Thank you Marla.