We are all Brothers and Sisters
I recently attended a very stirring event at the National Constitution Center: The Girl in the Picture: Remembering Vietnam that featured Kim Phùc Phan Thi. You probably don’t know her name, but you definitely have seen her. In an iconic and horrifying photo taken in Vietnam in 1973, she was the 9 year-old girl who was running naked and terrified after being burned by napalm.
Dr. Kim spoke about her experiences that occurred on that horrendous day, during the 14 months in the hospital and the16 surgeries that constituted her initial healing. She also spoke about where her life has taken her since that unforgettable horror. I was moved by the passion that she expressed over how her heart and soul had been healed through her faith.
In 1996, she had the opportunity to meet one of the US airmen responsible for her bombing. She discussed how he asked for forgiveness in his words and through the pain in his eyes, and she willingly gave it. They hugged and held each other. Each had suffered a distinct and severe pain, and they felt a strong connection, considering themselves brother and sister. They remain in contact to this day and are still close. Dr. Kim noted that she prays daily for the pilot of that plane.
I sat there stunned, amazed by Dr. Kim’s level of forgiveness and grateful for its lessons. I’m still processing the emotions and messages of this event. When I feel things strongly or emotionally, I get goose bumps, and I had them all over my body.
Related to well-being, I have been thinking about how this all connects with self-compassion. Kristin Neff, in her wonderful book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, writes about the 3 components of self-compassion: 1) being kind to oneself, 2) mindfulness of what one is experiencing and feeling, and 3) common humanity. While I’ll write more about self-compassion over time, “common humanity” is the idea that we are all in this together, in this crazy thing called life. We all suffer. We all feel pain. We are all human. When we suffer, we can feel isolated in our pain, as if everyone else is better off than we are.
In reality, we are all brothers and sisters, siblings, regardless of where we are from, our religion, how much money we have, who we love, our physical abilities, etc…. I believe when Dr. Kim forgave the man who was partly responsible for her bombing, she was able to see this clearly.
It’s so easy to be angry and to be isolated in our own silos by rage, seeing others as wrong, different, less than. I sat there in the audience and wondered if I would ever be able to forgive the person who bombed me. I honestly don’t know if I could. I think about all of the small ways that I get angry, that I hold grudges, and that I feel wronged. All the ways that I “other” people who have different political beliefs than I do.
While I regularly do work hard to connect with others, to be genuine and kind, to be open to moments of love and humanity, I often fall short because I am human. Seeing Dr. Kim speak and hearing her message, inspired me to continue working to see another less as “the other” and more as “me”.