With world headlines fixed on the return to Libya of convicted terrorist Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, I have watched these last couple of weeks as deep sorrow over the loss of 270 innocent people has turned to anger, rage and hate. A court action, allegedly on the grounds of compassion, has generated profound animosity that is, perhaps, as deep as the sadness from which it sprung. Gouging the wounds of the surviving families is television footage of Al-Megrahi’s jubilant return to Tripoli.
I consider myself fortunate to have never experienced the depth of loss and helplessness that comes from the senseless death of a loved one. So it is easy for me to sit back and remind myself that we should feel compassion and loving-kindness for everyone involved in the tragedy of Pan Am Flight 103 — including the perpetrators. This is, I guess, an area of my spiritual practice where I am relatively untested, though I have been able to find room in my heart for forgiveness of those, especially in my own family, who have committed hurtful acts against me and the people I have loved.
I also have the example of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with his sincere, public forgiveness of the same Chinese Communists who very nearly destroyed Tibet and forced its government into exile, all while torturing and murdering millions of Tibetans since the 1959 uprising. This, to me, is the ultimate act of compassion.
Another illustration of compassion in action comes from journalist April Witt’s well-crafted narrative of events during the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. Her story, in tomorrow’s Washington Post Magazine, follows a group of spiritual pilgrims from Virginia who were in the Oberoi as terrorists put the hotel under siege, murdering 32 innocent people, including a father and daughter on the pilgrimage. Despite losing her husband and a radiant 13-year-old daughter named Naomi, Kia Scherr does not harbor the anger seen in light of Al-Megrahi’s release.
“We must send [the terrorists] our love, forgiveness and compassion,” she said at a news conference after the pilgrims from the Synchronicity Foundation returned home from India. “As Jesus Christ said long ago, ‘They know not what they do.’ They are in ignorance. And they are completely shrouded and clouded by fear. And we must show that love is possible and love overpowers fear. So that’s my choice.”
The story featured photos of the pilgrims who survived the attack, including Kia. After reading the story and seeing the power of compassion in action, I guess it isn’t surprising that it appears as if light is literally emanating from the group. They are an example for all of us, a testament to the power of forgiveness in aiding the so-called human condition.
Photo credit: Matt Eich/Aurora Select, via washingtonpost.com