On Wednesday, 26 November 2008, as I was preparing a cup of tea at my mother’s house in Florida, the phone rang. I casually picked it up and heard the frantic voice of my friend and colleague: ‘Kia, turn on the news, the Oberoi hotel is being attacked by terrorists.’ I dropped the phone and fell to the floor as I cried out to my mother to turn on the news. There it was—smoke pouring out of the iconic Taj hotel—but no mention of the Oberoi. That 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. Both your husband and daughter were shot and killed in the restaurant at the Oberoi hotel. Their bodies have now been identified.’
Life as I knew it ended in that moment. For Alan and Naomi, their trip to India was meant to be the journey of a lifetime—a dream come true for Naomi, who was thrilled to visit the beautiful, exotic, colourful 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 a strange twilight zone somewhere in the middle of a quiet gated senior community in sunny Florida with palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze outside. Inside the house, the news announcer brought me back to the devastating reality that Alan and Naomi were two of the murdered 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 to find out more information. There he was, Ajmal Kasab— the lone surviving terrorist. Each of his nine colleagues had been killed, but he had survived, having been captured in a heroic effort by Mumbai police. In that moment, I heard the words of Jesus Christ float through my thoughts: ‘Forgive them; they know not what they do.’
I said aloud to my family, ‘We must forgive them. There is already too much hate. We must send love and compassion.’ A ray of peace entered my heart, and I knew that was what I had to do in order to survive this. In those first few hours after I received the news, every breath was an effort.
‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’—Leonard Cohen, Canadian folksinger
It took many years for me to truly experience that forgiveness is the light that gets in through the cracks, seeping in through the pieces of my shattered heart. The moment I said yes to that inner voice was the moment I began to heal. I can’t say I knew what it was to truly forgive, but I knew I didn’t want to be held hostage by hatred and anger for the rest of my life. I refused to become a victim. I was still alive, and I could bring forth the opposite of hate. I could learn to love like an extremist. What would that mean? How would I go about it?
‘How could you forgive a terrorist?’ I was asked. Good question. Terrorism is a brutal attack against 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 to me it feels like it is, then a person who could become a terrorist has forgotten this connection. He has forgotten 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 disregard for human life, for his disconnection from the source of who he really is, then it is I who am held hostage by terrorism. I would be joining the terrorist in hatred. Is this how I want to live? No. Is this how I want to honour the lives of my husband and 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 connection to love, and therefore I want to live in love and harmony with my fellow human beings. I want to live in peace. I want to learn about the diversity of this magnificent fabric of life, to honour that diversity and celebrate our differences. This is a personal choice. It does not mean that the perpetrators should not be punished to the full extent of the law. Actions have consequences.
I am responsible for my actions, and I want to live my life in the most loving way that I can. Those that break the law need to be held accountable. Forgiveness does not mean letting them off the hook. Forgiveness takes the hook of hatred out of our hearts. That hook hurts no one but ourselves. Once you understand this, forgiveness is the obvious choice. You may not get there right away. It may take years. I wrote this book to help you get there. These practices will open your heart and you will find love waiting with open arms to embrace you.
This is a book about the choices I made to resurrect my life day by day, step by step. I asked myself, ‘How can I honour life today?’ ‘How can I love?’ The choices are simple, maybe even obvious, and yet putting them into practice is a journey of a lifetime. These choices represent various ways to be loving in practical life. It may be as simple as a smile you give to a clerk in a shop or practising patience with a small child. It may be listening with your full attention to a friend in need of comfort. Possibilities to express love are endless, but I will get you started with the ways I used to heal my life.
When I said yes to forgiveness, I said yes to love and saying yes to love was saying yes to the happenings of life that show up each day. When my husband and daughter were killed so dramatically, my life dissolved on so many levels. I found that the best way for me to live was to make a conscious intention to renew my life one day at a time. This was challenging at times, and sometimes felt impossible. Some days I did nothing at all but cry, pray and meditate. At some point in the midst of the tears, love came forward as a warm feeling in my heart. As I learnt to relax into this warmth, the sadness transmuted into love.
To increase love in everyday life, I had to bring my full attention to it. ‘Whatever you put your attention on grows stronger in your life’ is a teaching I have always remembered from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This is a profound practice that delivers results. What is it that you want to grow 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 experiences possible—love, happiness, success, abundance, good health and peace—it’s up to you.
(Excerpted with permission from ‘Forgiveness Is A Choice’ by Kia Scherr, published by Penguin Random House)