Growing up,” Hashim Garrett told me, “I would have to say overall that it was pretty good. I had some bumps in the road. My mother and father separated, which was very difficult. I think the real hurdle came into our life when my mother was in a relationship with someone else. He was verbally abusive when he was under the influence of alcohol, and physically abusive to her. Those were the moments that I remember hating somebody. I don’t remember hating anybody prior to him. The abuse was very traumatising, because one minute he could be very nice and take you to the Yankees game. Then the next minute he is yelling and threatening you.”
Church was not a part of Hashim’s life as a child, growing up in New York. He found himself drawn to a different kind of community.
“I joined the gang when I was in the sixth grade. I did it for a few reasons. One, I wanted to fit in and it seemed like those were the popular kids. Two, for protection. The same kids that were picking on me, I figured out if I befriended them, then they will leave me alone. In my 11-year-old mind I said, If I hang out with the bullies, they won’t pick on me.
“It worked for a while and we bullied other kids, but when there was no-one else to bully they returned to bullying me. It didn’t really work out that well.”
Hashim then told me about May 7, 1990, the day everything changed for him.
“I was standing on the corner with some so-called friends. They were kids my mum always told me not to hang out with.”
While Hashim was standing on that street corner, another young man walked past him. Hashim didn’t know him and the youth gave no indication of having even noticed him. “He said nothing to me. He didn’t give me an odd look, like he was going to do something.”
What that unfamiliar stranger did that day has affected Hashim for the rest of his life.
“He walked past me. All of a sudden, one of my so-called friends who was standing next to me said, ‘Look out, run!’ I took off and I started running. My first instinct was to look to see what I’m running from, but I’m not going to stop. I keep running and I look over my shoulder.”
What Hashim saw was the same young man who had just walked past him—but now he was holding a submachine gun, aimed right at Hashim.
“I kept running. I remember looking down at my pants leg. I noticed a weird movement. I remember thinking to myself, Why are my pants moving like this?”
At that instant Hashim felt something hard strike him in the back. He was paralysed instantly.
“That hard feeling was a bullet that struck me in the spine. As I hit the ground I remember calling to my friends, ‘I got shot! I got shot!’ One or two came back, but they couldn’t help me.”
His friends left him there on the ground, paralysed and scared. “I’m wondering, Why can’t I move my legs, why can’t I feel my legs? I remember looking up at the sky, going, ‘God, please don’t let me die.’
“As soon as I said it, I felt a peace come over me. The moment the words left my tongue—‘God, please don’t let me die’—all that fear left me.”
At 15, Hashim had no idea what his diagnosis was, but he knew something was wrong. As he lay injured on the ground the only thing he kept thinking about was his mother. He was drifting in and out of consciousness, but as the emergency medical team put him in the ambulance, he noticed that his sneakers had been removed. He was wearing brand new white socks. The first thought that popped into his mind was, My mother is going to be proud of me because I’ve got clean socks on.
“My mother was always a stickler. It was ‘wear clean underwear, wear clean socks’, because you never know what is going to happen to you.”
What had happened to Hashim was that he was in a very serious condition. And it was never going to get better.
He knew it as soon as he came out of intensive care. “I can’t describe what it feels like to sustain a spinal cord injury. I didn’t need a medical degree to know this was bad. I can’t feel anything; I can’t move anything. The doctors came in and told me, ‘Sorry to say, but you are going to be paralysed for the rest of your life.’”
Those were some of the longest and darkest days for Hashim. “Fifteen years old. I’m so depressed, all I want to do is cry. That’s when I began growing my hair. I would just twist my hair and I would cry. Some days I would think about revenge, but those were my lowest moments.
“I needed help. I realised that all the money in the world was not going to put me back together again. The pain was internal. Shortly thereafter my mum started coming into the hospital and said, ‘Hashim, you need to read this book.’ But I didn’t want to at first.
“It was the Bible. As I read all these phenomenal stories, I said to myself, lf God helped those people . . . maybe God can help me. Then I came across the Gospels and I learned about Christ. I learned about this: when someone harms you, you have to turn the other cheek. The disciples asked Him, ‘What should you do when someone hurts you?’ He said, ‘You should forgive.’”
Hashim thinks the disciples in the Bible must be much like you and me. Human. They tried to get Jesus to set limits on something as uncomfortable and seemingly unnatural as forgiving others. They asked Jesus how many times we should forgive. Hashim read the answer: seventy times seven. “And as a 15-year-old, I was doing the math. That’s just a lot of forgiveness! I felt like Christ and God were speaking to me: Hashim, you have to forgive.
“Maybe I wouldn’t get a miracle to walk, but the real miracle was the depression that people couldn’t see. I read about forgiveness. I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to forgive my mum and dad for separating and abandoning me.’ They didn’t care about me. I had a grudge against them. I had to forgive my mother’s boyfriend. I realised he had his own issues. I had to forgive the kid who shot me.
“Then the hard part was having to forgive myself. Because I could blame my mother and father till the end of time. I could blame the kid who shot me, but at some point I had to take ownership. Hashim, you made those bad decisions.”
That self-forgiveness was the hardest part for Hashim, but forgiving yourself is an important part of the process for all of us. The trouble is, we may not know what we need to forgive ourselves for. We are so opaque to ourselves, so prone to denial. A central principle for this is in the apostle John’s first letter: “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything” (1 John 3:20). What does “God is greater than our hearts” mean? God is more generous sometimes to ourselves than we are. Not only are our hearts deceitful, but we actually don’t know what’s in there.
For Hashim there was a great sense of relief when he was able to forgive and let it all go. Forgiving himself and forgiving others. “Truly it was like a weight was lifted off me.”
However, Hashim’s journey of forgiveness was not a smooth ride. Dr Martin Luther King said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” It was not something Hashim did once, never needing to do again. He had to forgive and re-forgive constantly. Every moment that tests him is a new opportunity to forgive.
As a father of two small children, when they are on holiday and his children want to play on the beach or in the ocean, Hashim cannot join them. When his six-year old daughter wants to learn to ride a bicycle, he cannot experience that with her.
As he sits in his wheelchair watching, knowing why he cannot walk, in that moment he has to forgive again. Forgiveness involves forcing his perspective to change. Look at your two healthy children, he reminds himself. And in those moments forgiveness comes back. Hashim, let it go. Be grateful for what you have, as opposed to the things you can’t do.
“When you forgive someone for hurting you, it doesn’t let them off the hook. What you are doing is just releasing that grudge—you are not carrying around that bitterness. It’s really for you; it’s not for the other person. I still think if someone harms you, you should press charges. That’s what the criminal justice system is set up for, but internally it’s about lifting off that anger; it’s about lifting off the cancer of bitterness, because when you are angry with someone else it has a rippling effect. You take that anger out on people around you, including yourself.
“When we talk about forgiveness, we have to talk about love. In order for you to forgive, you have to love. The kid who shot me: somewhere deep down inside, I love him. He’s a human being like I am. I’m imperfect. He’s imperfect.”
That kind of love and forgiveness is only possible because God has loved and forgiven us first.
Karl Faase is a communicator and media producer living in Sydney, Australia. This article is excerpted from Jesus the Game Changer by Karl Faase with George Marriott (2017, Olive Tree Media). The book accompanies the video series of the same name.