The Reason I am Still Alive
Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Growing up in Brooklyn, I spent a lot of time hanging out. My friends were mostly older kids who didn’t think learning was cool, and before long I was making bad decisions. I wouldn’t have called them “bad” at the time, because at that stage I was fascinated by all the things these older guys were about. They didn’t go to school. They had a lot of girls. It seemed they always called their own shots. I liked that. My mother always told me that I shouldn’t hang around these guys, but I was fifteen. I didn’t need her guidance anymore; I knew it all. I’d say, “I hear you, Ma.” But I still didn’t care.
Next thing you know, my “friends” and I are getting into arguments. You see, when I first started hanging out with them, I’d do whatever they told me to do. If they said to go beat somebody up, I’d go do it. I wanted to show them how much heart I had. I was doing a lot of other bad stuff too. Then, as time went on, they’d tell me to do even worse things, and I’d say, “I’m not gonna do it.” So we started bumping heads. Some “friends” will love you only as long as you do what they want you to do.
They always told me we should carry guns, “just in case.” The idea was that if you ran into trouble, you’d have protection. One day – it was May 7, 1990 – we were out walking to the corner store, and I had this odd feeling, and then all of a sudden the guy walking next to me shouted, “Look out! Run!” I ran, and I kept running, but then I turned, and I saw this kid with a submachine gun (it turned out to be a Tech 9). Then my pants made a funny movement, and something hit me hard, in my back.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the movement my pants made was a bullet going through my leg, and the pain in my back was another bullet.
I fell down to the ground, and when I tried to move, I couldn’t. I couldn’t even feel my legs. I was totally alone. My friends had all run for their lives. I closed my eyes. I was scared out of my mind. I was sure the kid with the gun was going to come up close and kill me. Then I opened my eyes, and he was gone.
Aside from the two bullets Hashim felt, there were four more: all in all, six bullets passed through him, leaving a total of twelve entry and exit wounds.
While I lay on the ground, bleeding to death and looking up at the sky, I called out, “God, please don’t let me die.” I could feel in my heart that he would hear my prayer; I was full of conviction. As the words left my tongue, it was as if the world had blinked. By “blinked” I mean that up to that moment, I was so frightened that my heart was pounding. As soon as I uttered those words, though, I couldn’t even remember my fear. Everything changed. I was suddenly calm. As a believer, I now know why: when you call out to the Creator, peace and tranquility come over you.
Then all of a sudden, somebody was putting a jacket under my head, and two of my friends were there, arguing about whether to try and move me. I told them to try moving me, and they began pulling me up. As soon as they did, something popped, so they let me back down again…
What Hashim felt was presumably something in his lower spine. In any event, he was left paralyzed from the waist down. He spent much of the next year in a New York City hospital, thinking about how to get even with his assailant, and twisting his hair (he has not cut his hair since the day of his shooting, and keeps it in dreads as a reminder of that time).
Revenge consumed me. All I could think about was, “Just wait till I get better; just wait till I see this kid.” As days turned into weeks, I got angrier and angrier. I cried. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t feel like eating. I refused my medication. All I wanted was to get well enough to go kill this kid for shooting me. I didn’t even know him, but I was consumed by wanting to know what he had shot me for. (Eventually I found out: he’d shot me because my friends had set me up. You see, we weren’t getting along anymore. They’d loved me as long as I was willing to do stupid things with them.)
Then, as time went on, I began to think differently. I said to myself, “If I take revenge on him, I can only imagine what God is going to put me through.” I’d started feeling that God was trying to teach me a very important lesson, and that I’d better take it seriously. I also reasoned that if I harmed this young man, something bad would come back to me. You see, six months before this happened, I had shot a kid, for no reason except that a friend told me to do it and I wanted to prove how tough I was. Six months later, I am shot by somebody because his friend told him to do it. Whatever you put out in this world – whatever you do – will always come back to you. It must. It’s just a matter of time.
In the end, though, I decided to forgive. I felt God had saved my life for a reason, and that I had better fulfill that purpose. I didn’t know what it was, but I sensed God had something special in mind for me. And I knew that I could never go back out there and harm someone. I was done with that mindset, and the lifestyle that goes with it: an eye for an eye, and the continual little (and big) beefs.
It was like I had an epiphany: something came to me as I was lying there in the hospital and told me I should forgive. If I hadn’t, I’m not sure I’d be here today. I definitely wouldn’t be traveling the globe, speaking to teens about making the world a better place.
This article is an excerpt from our free ebook Why Forgive?
Hashim Garrett works with Breaking the Cycle to present programs combatting school violence.