I chose love and forgiveness over hatred: Kia Scherr

By Deepika Sahu
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Kia with her husband Alan and daughter Naomi // Pic supplied by Kia Scherr

…on life after losing her husband & daughter in the Mumbai 26/11 terror attack

Kia Scherr lives life by example. Kia lost her husband Alan and then 13-year-old daughter Naomi in the horrific Mumbai terror attack on November 26, 2008. Both Alan and Naomi were staying at the Oberoi Trident, Mumbai on that fateful night and lost their lives in the terror attack. Kia’s last telephonic conversation with Naomi was all about joy, happiness and Naomi’s excitement to get her nose pierced.

The terror attack changed her life forever. But Kia refused to be held hostage by the Mumbai terror attack. She, instead, chose love and compassion. She has spent 20 long years studying, practicing and teaching at the Sanctuary Holistic Retreat Center in Virginia. After her immense loss and grief, she co-founded One Life Alliance (with Master Charles) to teach peace education programs based on Love, Compassion and Forgiveness. Kia has recently published her book titled Forgiveness is a choice (Penguin Random House). In an interview with us, Kia shares her thoughts on coping with this immense loss and subsequently working in Mumbai and other parts of the world on sharing the message of love and compassion.

⁜ How do you now reflect upon your journey since November 26, 2008 when your life completely changed? And so much has also changed in the world since then. How have you embraced the changes to walk on this path of love and compassion?

I reflect upon this journey since November 26, 2008 with love and gratitude for the new experiences and wisdom it has brought me. I have met many amazing people, especially in India, who have taught me so much about life, meaningful connection and love.

I embrace the changes of the world with an open heart and willingness to accept and learn from new challenges. Love will rise to any challenge and will be available in various ways, such as acceptance, patience, forgiveness, and opportunities to create and restore balance, peace and harmonious relationships.

You spoke about love, compassion and forgiveness for the terrorists just few days after the incident. Very few people can do this… How did you gather the strength to walk on this path?

I had been building inner strength each day through my meditation practice since the age of 16. (I was 52 years old at the time of the terrorist attack.) Little did I know it would be put to a test such as the Mumbai terrorist attack and the loss of my husband and daughter. This reality had to be faced and I had to learn to live with it and move forward in my life so that I could bring something of value to the world in order to prevent such acts of terror in the future. We can each do our part by respecting the dignity of life in ourselves and others. This is the best way to honor the life we all share. This is how I will honor the lives of Alan and Naomi each day for the rest of my life. Choices we make each day determine outcomes.

Once we prioritize what outcomes we wish to create, we can proceed with choices that will bring the most positive results. I have created a 10th anniversary edition of The Pocketbook of Peace to provide examples of such choices as we move into a new year.

From dealing with numbing grief to spreading the message of love and compassion and starting One Life Alliance, what has been your inner inspiration?

Life itself is my inspiration—life provides so much experience to love and be loved. Love in all forms is most inspiring. I am a lover of life and I want to give love back in every way I can. This is the most powerful practice of all.

What were your thoughts when you first arrived in Mumbai and stayed at the Oberoi Hotel? How were the initial days of connecting with people in a totally new city amid overwhelming memories of grief and loss?

The Oberoi Hotel is so beautiful, it was unimaginable that a terrorist attack could occur in such a place. It was a surreal experience to visit for the first time. It was emotionally traumatic for me and I cried in the lobby as I looked around at the white marble floors, beautiful flowers, and gorgeous people looking so happy to be there. Such a contrast and yet both realities are true. Life contains opposites and so I was grateful for the beauty as well as devastated for the past event that killed so many on that fateful night. I had to live each day at a time as I met people in various sectors of the community. We had meaningful conversations that helped me to heal and learn how to give something valuable in return.

Kia Sherr // Pic supplied by Kia Scherr
How has been your experience of working with so many diverse groups of people in Mumbai and other places of India and different countries?

This has been a most enriching and rewarding experience for me. I have been privileged to meet and work with so many fascinating people from different backgrounds. It has expanded my view of the world and connected me deeply to our world family on a personal level. I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and share. In Mumbai I met people from all over the world. As a result I have made new friends from the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

You have recently written a book titled Forgiveness is a choice. Tell us something about the process of turning a deeply personal experience into a book and thereby sharing with the world

Writing this book was a cathartic process that took me to the depths of grief as the memories came flooding back. But at the same time I was inspired to share the love that came forth in abundance as well as the wisdom I gained. I learned to live with traumatic loss and rebuild my life as a new person in collaboration with a greater vision and mission for peace. It was a way to complete that event and heal the grief in a deeper way.

⁜ The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the need for compassion and empathy in our daily lives. As someone who has been walking on this path, please share your thoughts and daily practices on choosing compassion over indifference and love over hatred?

Deep connection to self and others gives rise naturally to compassion. When I feel deeply connected to life, it is impossible to feel indifferent. To stay connected to my core essence, I meditate every day. I take quiet time for reflection. I allow myself to feel everything without avoidance or judgment. I do my best to create balance in all areas of my life. I make choices based on balance, love, peace and compassion each day.

We learn from experience and can always start over if something doesn’t work. This is the miracle and magic of life. There is always a new moment to begin again and again and again. Life is an abundant giver. We just need to open our hearts to receive, and keep our minds open to learn from each other.


Deepika Sahu has been a journalist for 27 years and she has worked with some of India’s leading media houses. Right now, she is independently engaged in content creation and curation. Twitter: @menondeepika; Instagram: @moodydeepika; Facebook: Deepika Sahu

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