Seventeen years ago, investment banker Azim Khamisa was 46 years old and leading a pretty ordinary life. He had a good career, two children, and he enjoyed the sunny climate living in beautiful La Jolla, California.
That all changed on a night in 1995 when his only son, Tariq, 20, met with disaster as he attempted to deliver a pizza as part of his job.
A 14-year-old thug, part of a gang out looking for trouble, shot and killed Tariq as he sat in his car.
Khamisa fell into such an intense and agonizing despair that at one point, he was suicidal.
But Khamisa didn't die. In fact, he found himself after much soul-searching, doing something that most people would consider impossible. He reached out to the family of the young shooter, who was tried and convicted as an adult. Khamisa offered forgiveness and compassion to the family grieving on the other side.
"I talked to the boy's grandfather, who was his guardian, and I said, 'we've both lost our sons, my son to murder, and yours to prison.'"
Khamisa decided to set up a foundation in his son's name -- the Tariq Khamisa Foundation -- and he went on to dedicate his life's work to fostering forgiveness. He has since spoken before millions of people internationally and closer to home, in public and corporate workshops, and in video and audio recordings. He also has published four books exploring the way in which his heart-wrenching tragedy transformed him and led to his forgiveness work.
He realizes that many people will be puzzled by his decision to forgive his son's shooter (whose name is Tony.) "Forgiveness is not well understood in our culture," Khamisa says. "But I have a better life because I forgived. I came to realize that resentment is very corrosive. If you're out there carrying resentment, you're not going to be living at 100 percent of your capacity."
Khamisa also was able to see that Tony faced a life of agony and pain because of his crime. There were "victims at both ends of the gun," Khamisa says. "Tony has to live the rest of his life knowing he killed an innocent, unarmed kid. There's no escaping his wrongdoing. He still gets nightmares over the murder."
Key to Khamisa's transformation was his lifelong practice of meditation, and his ability to see that the only way he would ever have peace in his life is if he let go of the hatred and resentment he was initially harboring toward Tony. Today, Khamisa often appears on stage with Tony's grandfather; they speak to school groups talking about the pointless tragedies of gang violence, and in so doing, the two men are promoting peace.
To learn more about Azim and his amazing work, visit his website, www.azimkhamisa.com, where you can download his guided mediations on forgiveness.
I met Azim last week at an international conference in beautiful Assisi. The conference of more than 500 people was devoted to love and forgiveness. Sponsored by a Michigan-based foundation called the Fetzer Institute, the conference showcased dozens of examples of programs and projects that are devoted to promoting love and forgiveness. The belief is that love and forgiveness radically transform our consciousness and break open our hearts, helping us to find deep levels of peace. According to Fetzer's mission statement:
"Love is the most powerful force in the world. Only love can make us whole and make us one. Only love can heal our hearts, our relationships, our communities, and our world. In the face of conflict and injustice, forgiveness is an essential expression of love. In asking for and granting forgiveness, we free ourselves from guilt and grievance for a life of love and mutual support. Together, love and forgiveness light the path to a world in which all persons can live in peace and fulfillment, free from want, violence, and fear. Around the world, millions are awakening to the transformative power of love and forgiveness and are committing themselves to the great common work of building a global community. The purpose of the Fetzer Institute is to reveal, serve, and inspire this great awakening."
The conference in Assisi was an opportunity for leaders in a multitude of fields to come together to share concrete examples of how love and forgiveness are transforming the world. Many of the projects have been funded by Fetzer.
To learn more about the Fetzer Institute and the Global Gathering in Assisi, visit the Fetzer website at www.Fetzer.org.