Forgiveness in Action
Forgiveness for me is about ending a cycle of violence and destruction—it is about peace, both an internal, personal peace and, when practiced on a grand scale, a global peace. It is a sign of strength and maturity.
On July 7, 2005, 26 people died and many were severely injured and maimed on the subway train carriage that I was on. I was standing just feet away from one of four suicide bombers who targeted London's transport network that summer morning. Miraculously I survived, but due to the severity of my injuries, both my legs were amputated during emergency surgery. Doctors held little hope for my survival—fearing that if I did live, I would most definitely have a degree of brain damage, as during the course of my rescue my heart stopped three times, tallying a period of near death and lack of oxygen for approximately 28 minutes.
I am lucky, blessed that there wasn't a long and tortuous struggle or journey to find forgiveness. I woke in intensive care a few days after the explosion—I was euphoric that I was alive, grateful to have life even though I knew it would be a different life. I knew my legs were gone. I didn't know I was involved in a terrorist attack. Joe, my husband, was the first to tell me this. I was shocked, I wanted to know everything about the bomber, I wanted to see a picture of his face, I wanted to look into his eyes. I needed to make sense of it all—I needed to understand why.
I looked at his picture in the newspaper for hours whilst lying in my hospital bed. He was 19 years old, he didn't look like a monster, I didn't hate him—I felt nothing except pity for him. I had other things to think about than him, I had to concentrate on getting my body healed and the long and difficult rehabilitation process of learning to walk on prosthetic legs. There was no room in my mind or my heart for him or for any bitterness or hatred. I was too important, I wasn't going to allow this to destroy me, destroy my soul.
My days were filled with love. I surrounded myself with a glowing peaceful energy—I laughed, I hugged, I was happy to be alive and to share each precious day with the people who I cared about. My forgiveness was an important part of their healing, too. Through my example, they were able to put aside anger and feelings of revenge and retaliation. They were able to bask in the joy of all we did have and not dwell on the things we didn't.
My life, 20 months after the bombings, is very different. I have recently been appointed an ambassador for a charity called Peace Direct, and my work concentrates purely on building peace. I truly believe that humanity can overcome adversity and tragedy, and I truly believe that each and every person can contribute to a more harmonious and tolerant world.
* Gill is the author of One Unknown, and is an ambassador for the United Kingdom-based charity Peace Direct. For more information, visit www.peacedirect.org.