“Forgiveness came very easy,” says Linda Ragsdale, an illustrator and author who was shot at in the November 26, 2008 terror attacks. Linda was on a tour with meditation group Synchronicity Foundation when terror struck Mumbai. A dinner at the Oberoi Hotel’s Tiffin restaurant is an event that reshaped her life.
She remembers the night of 26/11 vividly. “It was an evening of contrasts. The restaurant was filled with sounds of life — the clinking of glasses and laughter. All of a sudden, from the corner of my eye, there were two flashes, and soon the room exploded with gunfire,” she recalls. “There was so much heat from the bullets that the air was bouncing violently.”
While the attacks were under way, the only thought that crossed Linda’s mind was what inhuman person would want to destroy lives. “What kind of monster would do such a thing? You could not be human and do that.”
But as the gunfire got closer, she saw the gunman — the age of her son back home in Tennessee, US. “I recognised my son’s age in this child’s face. My heart broke. All I could think of was why would a child have to come to talk to me in this way? How did he get to this place?”
Lying against a marble pillar while the gunfire continued, Linda felt responsible for the radicalisation of the attacker. “There was a part of me that was so strongly taking ownership of giving this child a gun instead of a book. And when I put my head down, rat-tat-tat. That was when I was shot (at).”
Rescued by an Oberoi staffer, she recalls the moment she walked out of the kitchen door, drenched in blood. “It was just one door that separated us. one door that took me from Hades to heaven. That night was the most beautiful starry night.”
Linda now runs Peace Dragon, an art initiative that helps inculcate values of peace in children in schools across the world, including six in Mumbai.
While Linda travels the world meeting students and youth through the Peace Dragon project, life post Mumbai has been a challenge — one she’s brave to take on. “There are challenges. I’m not as youthful as I used to be. My wound is almost 3-foot long. The bullet entered above my heart, travelled through my spinal column and exit the top of my thigh… But I’m here. I can’t run really fast but I can walk.”
In 2015, Linda was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, but she wasn’t going to let it take over her life. She braved it, spoke about her challenges and urged others not to let fear win.
“I’ve gone through cancer, and I can clearly say, peace is the way. Mumbai was the terrorist on the outside, cancer was the terrorist inside.”
The night of 26/11, though, was the moment that changed her life. “I only saw a skew of the world that kept me in a safety bubble. Mumbai ripped me out of that.” Her message? “Peace in, because peace in will lead to peace out.”