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Thanksgiving 2015

Our hearts are filled with thanks for all those friends, known and unknown, who have bolstered us and Austin with your actions, prayers and thoughts.  
We wish everyone a season of peace, safety and joy.

November 25, 2015

Thank you to Conor McEvily, for this article which articulates so much about Austin's character, and why we miss him even more keenly when our family gathers for special occasions.

Houston Chronicle

McEvily: On Thanksgiving, remembering Austin Tice

By Conor McEvily

November 25, 2015 Updated: November 25, 2015 4:33pm



I met Austin Tice - the American journalist and Houston native who went missing in Syria in 2012 - once, seven years ago, when both of us were in our first year at Georgetown Law. The integrity of the memory is admittedly dubious, compromised, I suspect, by time and intervening events. But the fact of the memory remains, along with a few details, small but still significant.

A classroom doorway frames the recollection. And outside it, Austin and a couple of first years are wrangling over some arcane legal matter. I approach the scene on my way to class, fully intent on breezing by. These extracurricular debates are painful spectacles, usually carried on in the service of something less noble than earnest intellectual exchange. But for reasons lost on me now, I linger - long enough to feel compelled to introduce myself, and long enough for Austin's character to leave an impression.

There's an exuberance to him, a brash expansiveness, that's both physical (broad shoulders, chest and grin) and temperamental. He channels his vitality into a commanding baritone, which you can feel reverberate at the base of your skull, especially when he laughs (which he does, at least once as I'm standing there).

The debate proceeds, capturing my attention for another minute or so before it becomes clear that no one's really listening to each other. The group disperses. I go to class (presumably). But what I remember most vividly, what's stubbornly stuck with me for the last seven years, is that whatever was being discussed, Austin really cared about it. At the time, I probably mistook his intensity for bombast or pedantry or just plain goofiness. (A cynical assumption, maybe, but maybe a warranted one, too, had it been most any other classmate.) But there was something else at work there, too; something I perceived then, maybe only subliminally, but which seems unmistakable to me now when I resurrect our brief meeting and recall the things that have happened since - Austin's courage.

A 'pioneering spirit'

This Thanksgiving marks the fourth since Austin disappeared - a grim and maddening milestone for those close to him, but maybe no more maddening than the many others that have preceded it: weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, baptisms, the smaller, unremitting mysteries that compose the day-to-day. And yet of all days, Thanksgiving seems as apt as any to commemorate Austin's absence. The holiday's official proclamation, in the middle of a civil war, was an expression of gratitude and grace during a time of profound national grief, and the day's inseparable association with the idea of home intensifies the anxiety we feel for those who are away.

What little we know of Austin's capture has been faithfully chronicled by a host of news outlets, this one included. Most recently, in an article for Texas Monthly, Sonia Smith carefully narrates his abrupt transformation from law student to freelancing war reporter who was working his way toward something of a modern-day heart of darkness before he suddenly disappeared. The latest intelligence seems to indicate that Austin is being held by an entity or ally of the Assad regime. But no one seems to know where he is, or what his captors want.

What animates Smith's article is Austin's tenacity and zeal - a "pioneering spirit," he called it, which he sought to harness and aim at something undeniably important: documenting, with words and photos, a people struggling to breathe free. Of the Syrian people, he wrote before his capture: "[t]hey live with greater passion and dream with greater ambition because they are not afraid of death," adding a few lines later, "neither am I." And yet Smith is frank in her assessment of Austin's inexperience and lack of training. Confederates and acquaintances in the region openly worried about Austin's brass and the risks he took in a cruel and unforgiving place.

Vigilance and compassion

That there was an element of folly to Austin's reportorial campaign, that it might've even been misbegotten is, to my mind, as likely as it is unimportant. What is important is what he sought to do in Syria, and what he actually achieved. "Freedom for Austin Tice," read one protester's sign in Syria shortly after he had vanished, "who lighted Syria with his lens."

Behind Austin's lens was his spirit. And beyond Austin's spirit - his idealism, his verve, his desire for self-fulfillment, all of which gave urgency to his dangerous task - beyond even his expression of courage itself, lay two fundamental virtues that he physically embodied, and for which his body has been physically detained: vigilance and compassion.

Of the first, the evil that Austin opposed was as much oblivion as it was oppression. His work, revelatory in nature, served as a potent antidote to blindness, diversion and obscurity, and it's important that we remain vigilant ourselves so that Austin does not succumb to these ills, as well. To bring him home will require, in addition to resolve, our sustained attention.

As for the second virtue, compassion, it would seem to merit particular consideration as our country engages in the trying, at times undignifying, debate about what role we're to play in giving refuge to a people fleeing war. We may not all be capable of summoning the courage Austin showed when he traveled abroad to help the people of Syria, but surely we can reflect his compassion when the war-weary Syrians come to us.

Remember his name

Having never been to war, or even near one, there is much about it I do not know. But of the one in Syria, I know this: Somewhere, in a place that's as close to hell on Earth as any I can think of, is an American journalist who, in age, provenance and education, is not that dissimilar from me. I know that he is brave, that he risked his life to tell the stories of a people devastated by war and that he has a family here in Houston that is suffering the absence of their first-born son. He was once a classmate of mine, this man, and I know he has a face and a body and a name.

Maybe that's the least we can do then, on Thanksgiving of all days. Remember his name. Keep it present and holy and alive in our minds while we wait for him to come home. And bear with it the names of the others who likewise strove to illuminate the dark. The names of the dead - journalists Marie Colvin, James Foley, Steven Sotloff - and the living: Austin Tice. Austin Tice.


McEvily is a Houston attorney. Thanksgiving Day will mark 1,200 days since Austin Tice's first day of silence. For more information on the #FreeAustinTice campaign launched by Reporters Without Borders, visit freeaustintice.rsf.org

Please join the Campaign - and help us amplify our voices for Austin's safe return.  

Click the link below, Post a Blindfold Photo,
Sign the Petition!

When Journalists are Silenced, We are all Blindfolded!freeaustintice.rsf.org

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