As I sit at my desk writing, I remember this time 10 years ago when Linda had been kidnapped and was being kept hidden while US troops scoured the valley she was in.
A time when reporters were camped at the end of our drive with TV cameras trained on the house, when the phone didn’t stop ringing. We remember visits from US staff of DAI, Linda’s employer, from the UK Ambassador to Afghanistan, from the Foreign Office. We were visited by a snowy owl which seemed to be a good omen.
We remember that dreadful visit from the police at 3.30 in the morning to tell us Linda was dead. Phone calls from Foreign Secretary William Hague, from the head of US military General Petraeus who, rather insensitively, advised us that the rescue attempt had been undertaken by the best troops in the world, one of whom, we subsequently found out, had unnecessarily tossed the grenade that killed Linda after all of the kidnappers were dead.
We remember the long sleepless nights, torn, ragged, aching, crying.
Constant media interest
We recall the tremendous support we received from our local community, from the police and from the government. Visits to London, to No 10, to the Foreign Office, listening to a presentation by the US Navy describing, we believe honestly, what happened during the rescue attempt. The funeral, the inquest. The constant media interest.
It’s a risk – when instantly catapulted from obscurity in Mangersta to a family every newspaper wants to interview, when what you say is picked over and interpreted – that you can become even more self-important than normal. You just have to remind yourself you didn’t do anything special, rather that things outwith your control happened to you.
We were absolutely determined not to become some of those terribly sad people who expose their sorrow, crying on the TV screen, thus giving a vicarious emotional hit to viewers… and who are then dropped because their story has been told.
Our remote location, friends with some experience of the media, and the time between the kidnapping all gave us time to reflect on how to manage the media. Decide what the story is and tell it in your own time, don’t be pushed to divulge – and work out what Linda’s legacy might be.
We set up the Foundation and there’s no doubt this was by far the best thing we could have done at that time. We were busy and had started something that benefitted not only others but ourselves.
Sometimes, desperate things happen that require you to wake up to what you’re doing with your life.
At some point we met a guy whose back had been broken in a surfing accident in his teens and was paralysed from the neck down. He’d started a charity developing wheelchairs for underdeveloped countries. He told us the accident was the best thing that had happened to him in his life. At the time we thought he was exaggerating vastly.
Now, we’re not so certain. Sometimes, desperate things happen that require you to wake up to what you’re doing with your life. And you discover just how much freedom you actually do have and how much you can change things if you set your mind to it.
For us, the past 10 years have been incredibly rewarding. Of course, we fervently wish Linda had lived. We can’t say it was the best thing that happened to us, but it definitely has delivered benefits.
And, when the worst thing that could happen to a family has happened and you realise how things work out afterwards is entirely up to you…then there’s not so much to get worried about.
Carol Anne Grayson says
Dear John, you have created a beautiful legacy in the name of your daughter. I smile reading about Linda as I can relate to her in many ways, having travelled to some of the same destinations with the belief that love and care overcome borders and cultural differences.
As someone who has had an active role behind the scenes in prisoner exchange/ release in Afghanistan, I feel very fortunate that my own life tragedy losing 3 of my family to the Contaminated Blood scandal in the UK opened this unusual door for me as an individual, unfunded and independent of any organization. This has including several years of direct contact with the Taliban on health and human rights. With faith anything is possible. I have found them to be respectful, helpful, empathetic and supportive, now they are like brothers to me, I their sister…. and I have hope for the future.
I always believed the way to peace was via prisoner release and to that end became involved in the US soldier Bowe Bergdahl/Taliban, Guantanamo prisoner exchange which was carried out peacefully and was successful despite the criticism we received at the time. (The US military initially wanted to go in heavy handed but it was not necessary.) No one was hurt, no one had to die like Linda! Then a further exchange, Anas Haqqani and others for university professors Tim Weeks and Kevin King which opened the door to peace talks in Doha.
Since then around 5,000 Taliban have been released from Afghan prisons and Afghan military, police and others set free by the Taliban, often with a little money to return home. I pushed for early prisoner release due to coronavirus as we in the UK had notification of the virus before it was viewed as a serious health hazard in Afghanistan. The Taliban listened and acted on this information, in fact they were quicker to act on coronavirus than the Afghan government in their areas of control.
I always believed whilst they were in captivity that if Tim and Anas met they would both be like brothers and would greatly assist the peace process… to that end once freed I suggested to Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that they meet. The meeting went ahead in Doha, a beautiful meeting by all accounts and their friendship continues.
I respect your choice to support smaller projects, frankly I have little time for the big international NGOs being aware of the wide-scale corruption in some organizations and how little help reaches those on the ground.
I also want to say that it is my belief that the wives, daughters, sisters, mothers of the Taliban must not be excluded from support to assist their communities, this is also necessary for peace. What you will never read in western media is the valuable work they do, some trained as doctors, teachers, business women in the most challenging of circumstances. I have come to understand and admire these women, their strength, faith and care for others. Your daughter may have had a small glimpse during her time in Afghanistan.
Out of tragedy amazing things can happen that can restore your faith in others. Linda would be very proud of what you are doing to carry on her work. Blessings to you and your family and my prayers for peace in Afghanistan.