In Khalil Gibran’s masterpiece, The Prophet (translated into almost all popular languages), there is a piece about “Joy and Sorrow.” He says we feel joy and sorrow from the same faculty.
“But I say unto you they are inseparable, together they come and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember the other is asleep on your bed.”
Gibran also shares the story of a sculptor working on a masterpiece with refined clay, so immersed in his creation he wets the clay with his own tears. Once the masterpiece is complete, the sculptor places it in a 1400-degree centigrade oven for several hours so the clay can become porcelain and radiate its beauty. The lesson in the metaphor is that often things need to undergo a painful and intense external force to complete a transformation to become even stronger and more brilliant. I know what it feels like to be in that 1400-degree oven, as that is what it felt like when I lost my 20-year-old son, Tariq (an inspiring college student) in a random, senseless act of violence.
Vulnerable people believe that the physical, emotional, and financial hits they take are completely worthless and wasteful — and they bitterly resent them. Spiritually evolved and resilient people know that life’s heartbreaking hits always contain the seeds of life’s soul-making moments, and they see them as incredibly valuable even if they are downright devastating.
When I lost my son to gun violence, I was a successful multi-lingual international investment banker with a good life, traveling the world, staying in beautiful places, and eating at five-star restaurants. After my tragedy, I had no life. It literally took all my willpower to climb out of bed.
I had to learn to reframe this devastating blow. My spiritual advisor counseled me that my response to this tragedy would “determine the quality of the rest of my life.” Similarly, our response to the current events will indeed determine our future trajectory. I believe we all want our country back to the vision of our founders. The UNITED States of America, where we live in love, understanding, and harmony with all our citizens and the rest of the world!
The tendency is that we normally socialize with people who look like us, have our values and interests, and look at others as “if you are not with us, you are against us.” This is not democracy. You don’t often learn as much from people that share the same values. Democracy is about debating opposite views and values, so how do we forge the best possible solution as we advance? What I have learned in reflection is you do not manifest miracles and transformation by uniting with people of similar values and beliefs – in fact, when opposite values and beliefs collide in harmony, we manifest miracles.
This is evident after reviewing my journey. My son, Tariq, was killed in an initiation ritual by a 14-year-old gang member. Seeing that the enemy was not the 14-year-old, the real culprit was the societal forces that force many young men and women to fall through the cracks and choose a life of crime, gangs, drugs, alcohol, and weapons. This led me to establish the Tariq Khamisa Foundation
, to honor my slain son and take on this biggest malaise of youth violence in our society. I forgave my son’s killer and invited his grandfather and guardian to join me in this effort. I could have started TKF
with other fathers of murdered children but – while a worthy effort – I believe it would not have been as effective. TKF is now in its 27th
year of successfully saving the lives of children.
Because of my choice to unite with my so-called enemy’s family and do something in response to the murder of my son, I have given over 1,000 presentations to young people worldwide and received over a hundred thousand letters, (see one below from Vanessa — another person who reframed her hardship). My miraculous life, which grew out of reframing my tragedy, inspired me to write 5 books, give over 600 keynotes to adults, teach nonviolence and unity, and present a TEDTalk in partnership with Tony’s grandfather, Ples Felix, which has been viewed by over 1 million people.
I have my full life back! In other words, the decision to forgive Tariq’s killer and partner with his grandfather — and most recently with Tony himself — was the right choice for me. I have learned much from Ples because we come from different cultural backgrounds, especially the huge challenges and hardships faced by many of our black and brown sisters and brothers throughout history and continuing to the modern day. The DEI effort is indeed a step in the right direction.
So, what is the lesson here? One way to look at our highly divided world is that focusing on the pain of these hardships is completely worthless and wasteful — and we stay in a state of resentment toward them. The alternative, humane way to look at these heartbreaking hits, is to understand that they contain the seeds of life’s soul-making moments, and they are incredibly valuable even if they are downright devastating.
How do we reframe the division in our beloved country? I would love to hear your thoughts! I am hopeful we shall overcome and rise above, as my good friend Calvin LeHew reminds me, “with every adversity, there is with it a seed of greatness.” I pray we find that seed and lovingly nurture it without judgment to reverse the current state of the union!
Peace and many blessings!