“Light is always born from darkness.” Linda Ragsdale
Naomi Scherr was seated at a table at the Tiffen Hotel lobby restaurant on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai, India, when the unthinkable happened. Naomi, a 13 year old, was full of life and possibilities seated next to my friend Linda Ragsdale. At the table also sat Naomi’s father Alan, Michael an actor from Canada, a yoga instructor and another Westerner. All of these friends had just spent the day touring, laughing and exploring the unimaginable polarities of India. You probably know the rest of the horrible story. In that hotel restaurant, ten minutes of hell left over 100 people dead, including Naomi. Only four survived. They all sat at Naomi’s table where both Naomi and her father were killed.
It was not a tsunami, typhoon or other natural disaster that took their lives. It was a horrific scene of death and mayhem which was entirely man made. Islamic terrorists affiliated with the radical organization Lashkar-e-Taiba stormed Mumbai that evening indiscriminately killing hundreds of people throughout the city. Over the siege that followed, all but one of the terrorists were killed by police and militia as the city was slowly restored to relative peace. Many of these terrorists were mere boys (or at most young men) under the control of others, some on the scene and some back in Pakistan from whence they came.
My friend Linda recalls the scene with the eyes of the artist she is. She had just promised Naomi that on the following day, Linda would teach Naomi how to draw a dragon. Linda is an illustrator and teacher of art. Naomi was a precious child filled with wonder who did nothing to deserve the slaughter that took her life. Friday never came for Naomi. Nonetheless, Linda is keeping her promise. Literally across the globe children are learning how to draw the dragon Naomi was never able to draw. Her PeaceDragon project is bringing together the dragon art of children in Mumbai and Nashville (and many other places) to create a dragon that represents the polar opposite of what Naomi experienced.
There are defining events in life. They don’t need to define you. Linda is not defined by that Thanksgiving day in 2008. Instead, she models the extreme polarity of life. As a survivor of this and other life threatening events that preceded that day, Linda refuses to be a victim. From the moment a 50 caliber machine gun bullet tore through her body, Linda was looking at the indescribably opposing polarities with a both/and world view. In that extreme moment of darkness, Linda was observing how light entered and filled that restaurant, “but the darkness has not understood it” John 1:5
She saw in the face of her 20 year old attacker who intended to take her life the eyes of a child. She saw her own son who was the same age as this terrorist carrying a machine gun and a backpack full of death. What she saw was not rage and hatred. Instead, she saw the face of fear, abject terror in the eyes of this “terrorist”. Something was very wrong with this picture. The child/man had been lied to, had been manipulated and controlled by a system that spewed hatred. This 20 year old had now come face to face with the reality that was far different than he had been brainwashed to believe. The people he was killing were not enemies. They were like him, victims of a culture of hatred. The victimizer was no less the victim than those he was victimizing. Love and hate, light and dark, life and death were all mixed in a cauldron of lies that day in Mumbai.
I was unaware that parents of poverty sell their sons into terrorism just like they sell their daughters into sexual trafficking. When does the victim become the victimizer? The boy/man that took scores of lives that day could have been one of them (victim/victimizer). His handler that day was never far from him, insuring that his orders of toxic belief were followed. The child/man victim/victimizer was just learning that the toxic belief was all a lie.
Linda intends to let the love, the light and the life “overcome the darkness”. The cycle of human trafficking, whether sexual, political or familial (as in domestic violence) will only be overcome when the polar opposites move into the dark space of hate, deceit, power and control.
In a few weeks, Linda will return to India to complete the PeaceDragon project. She will return to the scene of loss for the purpose of gain. She will use the language of love to overpower the memory of hate. She will bridge the globe with the hope of children seeking a world devoid of violence.
Thanks, Linda for the great reminders: “Light is always born from darkness”.