“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
My understanding of the CIA before reading this book (mostly gleaned from TV shows and movies I’d seen) had a lot to do with blacksites and torturing people for information. In Amaryllis’ memoir, she never once mentions taking anyone to a blacksite (however, it is possible that she did and she just wasn’t allowed to divulge that). Instead, the young CIA officer harnessed her passion for peace and made it her goal to understand the person on the other side of the table, even if that person was someone most Americans would consider a terrorist.
For most of her twenties, her whole life was a cover story. However, she challenged herself to weave tiny nuggets of truth into her fake identity so that the girl she was prior to recruitment wasn’t completely lost. Not so much that it compromised her cover, but just enough to bring authenticity to the high stakes conversations that defined her career.
Chris Voss, in his book Never Split the Difference says, “The person on the other side of the table is not the problem, the unsolved issue is.”
It became known to her team that posing as arms dealers to buy up all the WMDs before the bad guys could was not enough for her. She wanted to play the long game and the long game was building relationships with the real arms dealers and attempting to recruit them to help the CIA instead of helping the terrorists.
There were moments while reading this book that I was so completely inspired by Amaryllis’ passion for world peace (and not just the beauty pageant kind of passion) that I found myself daydreaming of ways I can be a part of reconciling conflicts between war torn countries.
Realistically, though, there were also many moments of terror as I imagined a twenty something girl traipsing across foriegn and dangerous lands with only her training and fake identity as her cover. If she were captured, there would be no rescue mission, nothing to show she worked for an American Government agency. She would have been on her own. Maybe I’ll just think about how I can help resolve conflict in my local community and leave the espionage to the pros.
It was interesting to be let in to her struggle with the fact that very few people knew anything real about her. Her family thought she was an art dealer and even other CIA officers outside her team were not privy to the operations she was a part of. She eventually decided that she wanted those closest to her to know her whole truth and that meant leaving the CIA.
She kept coming back to the verse from John and feeling an ever stronger pull away from her life of secrets. I can imagine that at that point in her life, embracing being fully known may have seemed more terrifying than taking on al Qaeda.
I read a book once (shocker, I know) called On Living, by Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain. She shared the dying thoughts and words of some of her patients and one of them had figured out something that many people still have not. The patien said, “Two ways to go through this world… with a hard shell or with a rock solid backbone.” Vulnerability takes strength and if we have an unbreakable shell around us, no one will ever truly know who we are. It takes a strong backbone to let people into the hurt, fear, shame and uncertainty of life and I am so glad that Amaryllis finally got to experience what it feels like to be fully known by her loved ones.
Timothy Keller said, “To be loved and not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.”