Kia Scherr recently led a workshop in Marin called “Forgiving the Unforgivable.” The title is a paradox, and in Scherr’s case a misnomer as well, because, as incredible as it may seem, she has forgiven the terrorists who murdered her husband and 13-year-old daughter.
“When we’re feeling angry and vengeful and wanting retaliation, what happens is that our hearts are contracted,” she says, quoting St. Augustine: “It’s like taking poison and hoping your enemy dies.”
Scherr’s husband, Alan, 56, and daughter, Naomi, were among the 168 people killed in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008.
At the time, she was visiting her family in Florida for Thanksgiving while her husband and daughter were in Mumbai on a meditation retreat.
A year after the deaths, Scherr, 56, who lives in Virginia, formed One Life Alliance, a Virginia-based organization dedicated to teaching people to honor the sacredness of life as a counter-balance to terrorism.
She is in Marin this weekend to participate in the 16th International Forgiveness Day events at Dominican University in San Rafael organized by the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance, a nonprofit headed by Mill Valley lawyer Robert Plath. Information on Marin events is available online at www.forgivenessday.org or by calling 381-3372.
“She has been enlightened enough in life that she knows that it doesn’t pay to dwell on revenge and hatred,” Plath says.
“It wouldn’t allow her to do the work she’s doing.”
“It was beyond comprehension…
There was so much shock and grief and sadness
that I didn’t have room for anger.”
Part of the work she’s doing with the One Life Alliance is to provide education, meals and medical check-ups for 1,000 children in the largest slum in Mumbai, the teeming Indian city where her husband and daughter were shot to death by Pakistani-trained gunmen as they sat down for a meal in a restaurant.
“It was beyond comprehension,” she says, recalling the phone call from the U.S. State Department that delivered the tragic news. “There was so much shock and grief and sadness that I didn’t have room for anger.”
Within a few hours, it occurred to her that the terrorists were ignorant of the interconnectedness of all people, what she calls “the life force that empowers each and every one of us.”
Through her organization, she has been on a mission to spread that message, but she couldn’t have done that without first forgiving her family’s killers.
“Forgiveness,” she says, “was the bridge to bring me to that point.”
Ajmal Kasab, the only attacker who was captured alive, has been sentenced to death and is in prison awaiting execution.
While she has compassion for the terrorists and harbors no hatred of Kasab, she also believes he must pay for what he’s done.
“There is a misunderstanding about forgiveness,” she explains. “It does not mean condonement. It does not in any way mean that this young man should not be exactly where he is right now, which is awaiting execution. Forgiveness does not mean to let him go. Actions have consequences and he needs to be accountable to the full extent of the law for the lives he took.”
–This copyrighted story is reprinted with permission from the Marin Independent Journal.