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Starr Cummin Bright

I was shot in a church by a man with paranoid schizophrenia, whom I had never previously met.

He left the church while I was speaking to some people and returned moments later with a pistol in one hand and a metal pipe in the other. He ran straight towards me, shouting, and fired his gun at point-blank range as I started to turn away. The bullet crossed my abdomen and entered my spinal cord, broke off a piece of vertebra and deflected down the spinal cord about four inches. Though I was able to relearn how to walk, I still have debilitating sensory pain, even now, 27 years later. I became angry when it seemed that every aspect of my life I cared about was now closed – my veterinary career, being able to pick up my toddlers, being able to think clearly without pain interrupting my thoughts, sleeping through the night… But I also couldn’t get this man out of my head.

A wise friend told me to pray for him. Since I wasn’t adept at prayer, I worked on forgiving him through Tonglen meditation. I got to the point where I wished for him all the immaterial things I wished for myself and my loved ones: peace of mind, loving relationships, hope, serenity, abiding joy.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean I condoned what he did. It means that I recognize his humanity and wish him well. As soon as I forgave him, the hamster wheel of fear and anger towards him left. This was a turning point that enabled me to have joy in my life again, regardless of pain.

Reacting shows support for gun violence survivors.