Mary Altaffer, Associated Press
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, listens as Malala Yousafzai, right, addresses the ‘Malala Day’ Youth Assembly, Friday, July 12, 2013 at United Nations headquarters.

The girls are at the table, one working on physics, the other on history. They are mumbling about teachers and assignments and the fact that each, in her own way, is a little bit lost in the assignment spread out before her.

At the moment, my girls, who both get good grades in hard high school classes, are not in love with their public education. They'd rather be doing something else with this beautiful Sunday evening as the sun flash-dances its way across the horizon.

Across the globe, there's another girl their age who feels just the opposite. That woman-child, Malala Yousafzai, has put her life on the line to tell girls that what they learn matters and that they have a right to be educated. They need it.

A year ago, the Pakistani girl, 15 at the time, was sitting on a bus, her face uncovered despite local custom, when two young members of the Taliban flagged the bus over.

One carried a gun and his intent was murder. She was his target. It was not her unveiled face that caught his eye; he asked for her by name as he waved his gun. Then he shot her, at point-blank range, in the face. Three times.

She is both an unlikely hero and proof that anyone can rise up and shake the world. Her story is still sending shockwaves and she has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She'll find out sometime this week.

Malala believed passionately that girls should be able to go to school, that they had the right to their dreams and a future. She was not ignorant of the risk. Numerous news reports have pointed out that in her village, women and girls who didn't comport themselves in a way considered seemly by the Taliban sometimes had acid thrown in their faces, or they were abused or even killed.

It's absolutely clear that death was to be her punishment for her brazen appearances on Pakistani TV and for writing her thoughts for the world on a BBC online forum.

She was on the bus, coming home from school, she told reporters, because her mom thought it would be safer.

She knew the Taliban was brutal; she told Diane Sawyer that the town square had earned the nickname "Slaughter Square" for the number of beheadings carried out there. But she was more worried about her father, who had spoken out for the rights of girls to have an education. She thought her young age would provide some protection.

That age is what makes her story particularly remarkable and outrageous and heartbreaking and heartwarming. My children have stood up to bullies, but they have not lived in a world where you submit or die for believing something is right or wrong.

That age is what has rallied the world around her and given her cause the backing of even those who might not have cared on another day about something happening so far away in a region so remote from their realities that it would not seem to touch them.

That age is what makes me embarrassed about times when I've taken the path of least resistance rather than pick a cause and blaze forth in pursuit of change.

My girls and I were talking about Malala when the year-anniversary story came on the radio. I remarked that nasty comments on stories written by mean people who could duck accountability by posting anonymously is sometimes all it takes to make me tow the line.

The real question is what it would take to get me — to get all of us — to risk everything because something is so important and so right we cannot be silenced.

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