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One of the most critical lessons learned after the bomb was one of the toughest, and I’m still pondering why.

Forgiveness.

It’s key to healing; it’s critical to overcoming.  Forgiveness is as essential in rehabilitation as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, pain management or any of the other post-hospital care after severe trauma.

Some are surprised that I could write publicly about forgiving Abdul Zahir, an Afghan alleged to have been involved in the March 4, 2002 attack against us.

I’ve been asked about it in national interviews, and I’ve written about it, in an opinion piece in my former paper, the Toronto Star.

First, none of us can identify our would-be killers. The attack was too sudden, and the explosion too quick for us to offer more than a basic description of a man wearing a black shalwar kameez.

The men who approached our car came out of nowhere, from behind a small ridge, in a desert as barren as the moon. Our attention had been caught by a children’s soccer game in the dust, as we drove by slowly on a deeply rutted track.

Second, it isn’t difficult to forgive people who likely saw me as an intruder in their country.

Afghanistan had no government or security forces then, and was one of the world’s poorest countries suddenly at war with a superpower. (The war was only months old.) I forgave our assailants because I imagined that any stranger would appear to be a threat — even a woman wearing a head scarf.

Besides, Afghanistan remains in my heart. Many of its people showed us only openness and incredible generosity when they had so very little. I have never been more moved by want, than I was among war-worn Afghans, bombed for generations by world powers from Britain to Russia.

No, it was more difficult to forgive those who seemed to abandon me after I became disabled, and couldn’t return to my work in India. I mourned the loss of India for years, and in my sorrow, couldn’t forgive people I believed had left me too.

It took some time — including four years studying disability issues — for me to truly understand that one person’s pain can frighten others into silence.

It took years — after I changed careers, lost a job, then another — to realize that unemployment, like disability, is seen by the fearful as contagious.

This is a societal issue.  It doesn’t mean that people lack compassion.  It means that we all have a long way to go to overcome our prejudices here, at home, before we learn to accept others who are different.

As a rehabilitation counselor, I’ve heard many stories of pain. I’ve seen that pain relieved by forgiveness. I’ve studied clinical research about its benefits. I’ve witnessed how forgiveness can lift a long-held burden, often a psychological torment. I’ve seen how swiftly forgiveness can be extended, and accepted, and bring long-lasting change.

And I’ve learned, as an advocate for people with disabilities, that forgiveness heals.

Especially — and this is one of the deepest lessons — when we come to forgive ourselves.

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