A friend tells me of twitter users startled and offended by references online to one of those killed in Libya. "RIP Vile Rat" apparently provoked enough for others to explain "if you see it, it's not as an insult."
Sean Smith began his service in the State Department ten years ago. According to official statements he served in several locations, some dangerous. In Benghazi, he was the Foreign Service Information Management Officer, advising the Ambassador and coordinating with pretty much everyone else in government. It's not an insignificant job.
Security was tightened after the 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Iran, but Ambassadors, staff, and their families remain a target. There were twelve attacks on US embassies during the Bush administration. That hasn't happened so much since President Obama assumed office, until now. These things seem to come in waves. There is some loose speculation floating around that the assassination in Libya had more to do with retaliation for recent successes in killing terrorist leaders than with the awful anti-Islam film hawked by low level bigots, protests being used as a distracting cover.
Those serving in trouble spots live with danger. They help mold history. They are heroes.
And, like other heroes, they become one dimensional for many of us. Bare facts reach us through news media. Their jobs are mentioned, their families. Sean Smith leaves a widow and two children. Occasionally some more personal detail is also reported.
Sean Smith was an enthusiastic participant in a large, very large, 400,000 member online science fiction game called EVE. His persona was known as Vile Rat. He was well known within that gaming community. He was well liked. He is greatly missed.
The story of his passionate hobby is making the media rounds, becoming part of mainstream news. He loved the interaction. Even his skills as a diplomat found their way into the game of espionage, partnership, risk, and battle. He found himself consulted as part of a committee to mold future development of the EVE universe. Chat lines and message boards became a thoughtful platform that sometimes went beyond the immediate contest. He was more well known than was generally suspected, perhaps more than even he knew. "RIP Vile Rat" appeared spontaneously online in thousands of unexpected places as news spread.
To me, the story is a reminder that heroism is seldom a full time occupation. It is a role frequently taken on by those preoccupied by things other than heroism. Embassy employees, military personnel, civil rights pioneers facing down thousands of Bull Connor clones, first responders, emergency workers, volunteers, all have other lives. They lose tempers, argue with families, cheer at sporting events, drive too fast or too slow, go to church or temple or synagogue or stay home.
At some point, they take something on. Some times it is immediate danger, sometimes a long term increase in risk, sometimes a response to a sudden urgent crisis.
When they die, and they too often do, it means games not attended, arguments not carried on, voices not raised in anger or joy, disappointments not faced, triumphs not achieved, talents not developed, hobbies not pursued. The whole range of the very special ordinariness of life is represented in each life lost in personal valor.
We are reminded, at least for a time, of the extraordinary blessings we are tempted to regard as ordinary, tempted not to regard at all.
We are grateful for those who return, who survive.
And we grieve as best we can with those left behind. We mourn those for whom ordinary and extraordinary marks of the human experience have ended.
RIP Vile Rat.
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I won't though, largely because of the sincere epitaph you have written to someone that was indeed heroic.
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