Something extraordinary just happened. I had wanted to go to an event today but had expected to be out of town. My schedule changed so I hadn’t had to travel but I’d forgotten all about the event. Then, this morning, two hours before start time, a friend contacted me to say he had an extra ticket if I wanted it.
At first I was going to say no. I had other plans and work I wanted to get to, but something about the event and the serendipitous invitation pulled me, so I went and wound up listening to an extraordinary woman. Soraya Deen is co-founder of the Muslim Women’s Speakers Movement. She was in my hometown, Bend Oregon, to share her story of being a Muslim woman in America. Her message is one of peace, mutual respect, kindness and taking action to make our world a more peaceful and beautiful place.
As I was listening to her powerful story and wisdom I realized that just a few feet from me at the next table were two people who had piled onto the media attacks against me. One had lied about me to reporters, trying to capture five minutes of fame at my expense. The other was his girlfriend who had also been unkind. Just a year and a half before this man lied about me to the press he had asked me, because I was in a fairly prominent position, to write a chapter and help promote a book he’d been working on. One moment I was good enough to help him write a book, the next he was publically maligning me.
As I covertly looked at him while he watched the speaker, emotions surged and my first reaction was to confront him, call him out on his nasty, dishonest behavior. Then I remembered all the hard work I’ve done these past two years to forgive and to avoid putting into the world the same ugliness I’d received. Just as I was experiencing this, a teenager in the audience asked Soraya what advice she had for the youth. She said, “Be kind. It’s the most important thing. Be kind even to people who harm you.”
I snapped back into the present moment. I knew she spoke truth and I knew I was being given a chance to act on it. So I re-envisioned what I might say if the two approached me. I would not accuse or hit back. I would merely say, “I hope you’re doing well and that your wounds have healed.”
As it turned out as soon as they realized I was there, they got noticeably uncomfortable and took off immediately at the end of the speech. Half an hour later after a wonderful visit with Soraya and some of the other guests I was leaving the building just as another woman was coming in. I realized it was the girlfriend. She saw me and flushed. I held the door open for her. She kept her head down, avoided eye contact and mumbled “thank you” as she nervously scurried through. I said, “You’re welcome.”
One of my favorite metaphors lately is that choosing not to forgive is like drinking poison expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness isn’t saying what they did was OK – forgiveness is choosing to take your power back.
My head was high and my heart light as I walked from the building into the sunshine.
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