Excerpt from the book: “Forgiveness is a choice” by Kia Scherr
On Wednesday, November 26, 2008, while I was brewing a cup of tea at my mother’s house in Florida, the phone rang. I casually picked it up and heard my friend and colleague’s frantic voice: “Kia, turn on the news, the Oberoi hotel is under attack by terrorists.” I dropped the phone and fell to the floor as I yelled at my mom to turn on the news. It was there – smoke was billowing from the iconic Taj Hotel – but no mention of the Oberoi. It came later. As we hoped and prayed for the safety of Alan and Naomi, my husband and thirteen year old daughter, two days passed before the fateful phone call from the US Consulate in Mumbai. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Scherr. Your husband and daughter were shot dead in the restaurant at the Oberoi hotel. Their bodies have now been identified.
Life as I knew it ended at that point. For Alan and Naomi, their trip to India was meant to be the trip of a lifetime – a dream come true for Naomi, who was thrilled to visit the beautiful, exotic, colorful and amazing Mumbai, known as the City of Dreams.
As their bodies lay lifeless under a table in the luxurious Oberoi Hotel, I was in an eerie twilight zone somewhere in the middle of a quiet, gated elderly community in sunny Florida with palm trees swaying in. a gentle breeze outside. Inside the house, the host brought me back to the devastating reality that Alan and Naomi were two of the murder victims of a terrorist attack.
Numb with shock and disbelief, my family and I sat in the living room and watched the aftermath of the attack for more information. There he was, Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving terrorist. Each of his nine colleagues had been killed, but he had survived, having been captured in a heroic effort by the Mumbai police. At that moment, I heard the words of Jesus Christ floating in my thoughts: “Forgive them; They don’t know what they’re doing. ‘
I said aloud to my family, ‘We have to forgive them. There is already too much hate. We have to send love and compassion. A ray of peace entered my heart, and I knew that was what I had to do to survive it. For the first few hours of hearing the news, every breath was an effort.
‘There is a flaw in everything. This is how the light enters .’— Leonard Cohen, Canadian folk singer
It took me many years to truly experience that forgiveness is the light that penetrates through the cracks, seeping through the pieces of my broken heart. The moment I said yes to that inner voice was the moment I started to heal. I can’t say I knew what it was like to truly forgive, but I knew I didn’t want to be held hostage by hate and anger for the rest of my life. I refused to become a victim. I was still alive and I could breed the opposite of hate. I could learn to love like an extremist. What would that mean? How could I go about it?
“How could you forgive a terrorist? Someone asked me. Good question. Terrorism is a brutal attack on humanity. Unforgivable. But on the other hand…
‘We all come from the same Source. We are one human family .’- Saadi Shirazi, Persian poet
If this is true, and I suspect it is, then someone who might become a terrorist has forgotten that connection. He forgot who he is as a human being. To this extent, he is capable of killing innocent people. If I live in resentment and hatred for his contempt for human life, for his disconnection from the source of who he really is, then I am the one held hostage by terrorism. I would join the terrorist in hatred. Is this how I want to live? No. Is this how I want to honor the life of my husband and my daughter, who were killed by a young man who forgot who he was? No, I feel compassion for a person who forgot who he was and lost his connection to love. I have not forgotten my link with love and that is why I want to live in love and harmony with my fellow men. I want to live in peace. I want to learn more about the diversity of this magnificent fabric of life, honor this diversity and celebrate our differences. It’s a personal choice. This does not mean that perpetrators should not be punished with all the rigor of the law. Actions have consequences.
I am responsible for my actions and want to live my life in the most loving way possible. Those who break the law must be held accountable. Forgiving doesn’t mean letting them get away with it. Forgiveness removes the hook of hatred from our hearts. This hook only hurts ourselves. Once you figure this out, forgiveness is the obvious choice. You may not get there right away. It can take years. I wrote this book to help you get there. These practices will open your heart and you will find the love waiting with open arms to embrace you.
It’s a book about the choices I’ve made to resurrect my life day after day, step by step. I asked myself, “How can I honor life today? “” How can I love? The choices are simple, maybe even obvious, and yet putting them into practice is the journey of a lifetime. These choices represent various ways of loving in practical life. It can be as easy as giving a smile to a store clerk or practicing patience with a small child. It may mean listening with full attention to a friend in need of comfort. The possibilities to express love are endless, but I will tell you how I used to heal my life.
When I said yes to forgiveness, I said yes to love and to say yes to love was to say yes to the events of life that arise every day. When my husband and daughter were killed so dramatically, my life dissolved on so many levels. I discovered that the best way for me to live was with a conscious intention to renew my life one day at a time. It was sometimes difficult and sometimes impossible. Some days I did nothing but cry, pray, and meditate. At one point, in the midst of tears, love manifested as a warm feeling in my heart. As I learned to relax in this heat, sadness turned to love.
To increase love in everyday life, I had to give it my full attention. “Whatever you pay attention to becomes stronger in your life” is a teaching I always remembered from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It is a deep practice that works. What do you want to become stronger in your life? What do you think about throughout your day? Notice your thoughts and use the power of intention to direct your attention to the best possible experiences – love, happiness, success, abundance, good health, and peace – it’s up to you.
(Courtesy of “Forgiveness is a Choice” by Kia Scherr, published by Penguin Random House)