For at least half the year, Kia Scherr lives in a hotel room in Mumbai, less than a five-minute walk from a hotel restaurant where, in November 2008, terrorists shot and killed her husband and her 13-year-old-daughter. Alan and Naomi Scherr, who were visiting India with 23 other members of Synchronicity, a spiritual and meditation community in Virginia, were among six Americans slain in attacks that left 166 people dead and more than 230 wounded.
Kia was not with them on the trip, but the 2008 terrorism in Mumbai has defined her life since. In the immediate aftermath, it made her a must-get interview for media outlets. It has turned a proud introvert into the public face of an international nonprofit group. It has uprooted her from a quiet life in the Blue Ridge Mountains and deposited her on the frenetic streets of Mumbai. It has made her a global voice for forgiveness and compassion. It has added words such as “deliverables” and “program mission statements” to her once jargon-free vocabulary.
“It was a choice-less choice,” Scherr said. “I could have retreated and gone inward into the pain, but that’s a pretty dark place, not a fun place to be.”
When Scherr and Synchronicity’s leader, Master Charles Cannon, who survived the attack, publicly forgave the terrorists, the global reaction was overwhelming. “E-mails, calls, letters, they just came flooding in from all religions, all cultures — and the message from everyone was this unifying love; love survives.”
To capture the momentum, Cannon and Scherr, along with other survivors, founded One Life Alliance in 2009, a counterterrorism nonprofit that offers educational and development programs for students and adults that emphasize leadership skills and conflict resolution. In February, Cannon published a book: “Forgiving the Unforgivable,” which has sold 15,000 copies. Meanwhile, interest in Synchronicity retreats, podcasts and meditation groups has increased at least 50 percent, Cannon said.
This year, One Life Alliance’s mission will become part of a program at St. Andrews College in Mumbai, where students will “honor life and peace” with community outreach. A high school in Alan’s home town of Baltimore is incorporating One Life’s pledge, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley asked Kia to serve on his South Asia Commission.
“Alan would get a kick out of me finding my inner executive, and Naomi would love that I’m working with students her age,” Kia said.
The two, she says, are more alive to her in India than in Virginia. Though living so close to the site of their murders might seem too painful, Scherr said that she tries to celebrate her husband and daughter. She related that on New Year’s Day 2011, shortly after moving to India, she told herself: “I’m going to walk over to that restaurant, sit down and raise a toast to Naomi and Alan. If I can’t celebrate their lives where they last laughed and hugged, then hate has won.”
And that’s what she did. The waiter, seeing Kia pause at the table where they died, walked over and told her she looks exactly like her daughter.