Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pep Talk: "Enough!"

The handsome 29-year-old man plunked down across from me at a Denver-area coffee shop, smiled, and announced, “It has been a blessing to have been shot three times.”

How’s that for an opening line?

For the next hour I listened in amazement to Pierce O’Farrill’s story. “We were sitting near the front of the theatre when I saw him enter through the emergency exit and fire off a tear gas canister.”

That was the beginning of a horrific night in Aurora, Colorado. A disillusioned madman, hiding inside a gas mask, riddled a movie theatre with bullets. Twelve perished, dozens more  were wounded, several critically. Physical and emotional scars remain, and probably always will.

“I was hit once in the upper left arm, shattering my humerus. Twice in my left foot. The healing has been miraculous. I’m back to playing basketball again.”

The journey forward from the nightmarish moment has been a roller coaster. Grateful to have survived, remorseful in wondering why he was spared while others perished and fighting the battle between anger and forgiveness toward the perpetrator. The fit-looking young man focuses on the latter: Forgiveness fostered by his faith.

“I am asked to speak around the country often these days and share how my Christian faith, especially believing in forgiveness and empathy toward others, has been the foundation to moving forward.” 

I smiled broadly at O’Farrill’s mention of forgiveness and empathy being a cornerstone toward effectively moving beyond life’s disappointing and tragic experiences. We all have had them, right? Those moments in life where we’re wondering, “What the heck is going on around here?”

The defining occurrences arrive in our lives unexpected and unwanted. Rarely are they as tragic as what O’Farrill and others experienced on a warm summer evening. “I tried to escape but collapsed in the walkway near the front of the theatre. At one point, toward the end of the rampage, the gunman stood above me. I thought it was over.”

SWAT team members would eventually evacuate the sports enthusiast. A police officer checked his wounds in the parking lot and assured, “You’re gonna be okay.” Later at the hospital while waiting for surgery, O’Farrill asked for a Bible, his constant source of inspiration for the many challenges that had entered his life of late, including a relationship breakup, the sudden death of his mother and now this.

The greatest selling book in the world says something in Colossians that has been a powerful guide for the writer of this Pep Talk for quite some time. Yep. In the third chapter, 13th verse, it states, “Be gentle and forgiving, never hold a grudge...”

Now engaged - a love affair blossomed with a family friend turned caretaker turned soul mate - this wonderful spirit has refused to become a victim of circumstances. Nope. He has chosen to use this insane moment to become a student of the experience.

“It has given me better clarity to what my purpose in life should be. It has given me the opportunity to speak to others and encourage them to use life’s setbacks as a springboard, powered by faith, for a better future,” he says.

Whether others choose to embrace the faith aspect of moving beyond life’s challenging moments is a deeply personal decision. But one thing is crystal clear: The ability to muster the courage and strength to somehow, someway, allow empathy and forgiveness to win the battle against anger and bitterness, seems a necessary step in achieving goals and overcoming challenges. Faith or no faith.

Where might it be time to really just let it go? To just admit that clinging to bitterness and anger toward someone or something has been an anchor to the past that’s kept us mired in the muck too long? It’s a question I ask each week of the men I mentor at the Denver Rescue Mission. It’s a question directed toward you right now.

As a good way to achieve goals and overcome challenges, when is it time to just say, “Enough!”?

The goal may be dealing with a heartbreaking divorce, relationship meltdown, loss of a job,  or whatever.

Our time together ended. We agreed to meet again. As I watched him walk outdoors into the brilliant Centennial State day, that ol’ saying, “You’re future’s so bright you gotta wear shades” bore into my brain.

It’s the same for us. To venture into the brightness of a better future, we must let go to the darkness of the past. A good place to start is with forgiveness. Of others and of self.


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