The Would-Be Robber’s Gratitude
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
In a recent Course Meets World piece, I reported the story of Mohammad Sohail, a convenience store owner who offered forgiveness and help to an armed man who tried to rob him. This week, I read a follow-up story reporting the most recent development in this remarkable holy encounter: the would-be robber’s expression of gratitude for Sohail’s priceless gift of love. I see this whole story as a beautiful real-life parable of the power of forgiveness.
First, a quick summary of the story I reported in my previous piece: Sohail was closing his store in Garden City, New York one night when a man with a baseball bat burst in to rob him. Sohail grabbed a rifle from behind the counter and pointed it at the would-be robber. To Sohail’s surprise, the man broke down in tears, told him he was just trying to support his starving family, and begged for forgiveness. Moved by compassion, Sohail put down his gun and gave the man $40 dollars and a loaf of bread. All he asked for in return was a promise never to rob again.
This act of kindness touched the man so deeply that he wanted to convert to Sohail’s Muslim faith. Sohail gave him this gift as well, helping him make the profession of faith necessary to become a Muslim. Afterward, the two men shook hands, but when Sohail went to the back of the store to get some milk as an additional gift for his new Muslim brother, the man disappeared.
That was the end of it. But this brief encounter was powerful and life-changing, for it gave both men priceless gifts. The would-be robber received the gift of forgiveness and kindness; Sohail received the gift of joy that comes from helping a brother in need. As Sohail humbly put it, “I’m a very little man. I just did a good job. I have a good feeling in my heart. I feel very good.”
But it turns out that the man’s disappearance was not the end of it. The follow-up story reports that some time afterward, Sohail received a letter from the man who tried to rob him. The man expressed his gratitude for Sohail’s kindness and enclosed $50, $10 more than Sohail had originally given him. And he described how the encounter had transformed his life for the better:
Now I have a new child and good job make good money staying out of trouble and taking care of my family. You gave me forty dollars thank you for sparing my life Because of that you change my life.
Sohail, humble as ever in his response to the letter, makes light of the incident even as he expresses a profound truth:
When you do good things for somebody, it comes back to you. I gave him $40 and he sent me back $50. It was a good investment.
In my original piece, I shared how in my mind, this incident powerfully demonstrated a number of teachings from A Course in Miracles. It reminded me that you can forgive in any situation, no matter how extreme. It showed that extending forgiveness to another person can truly transform that person, even to the point that he “converts” to the forgiver’s loving thought system — in this case quite literally, as the man decided to become a Muslim. Finally, it illustrated the bedrock Course teaching that when you forgive, you yourself receive the gift. You too are “converted” to the thought system you are teaching, as the other person’s acceptance of it reinforces it in your own mind. I summed it all up with this key passage from the Course, which gives us nothing less than the formula for salvation:
Forgive and be forgiven. As you give you will receive. There is no plan but this for the salvation of the Son of God. (W-pI.122.6:3-5)
To me, these latest developments in the story further demonstrate these teachings from the Course, and illuminate some other Course teachings as well. First, from the man’s letter, we can see even more just how much Sohail’s forgiveness transformed him. He had been profoundly moved on the day of the attempted robbery, and it is apparent that the change of heart he experienced that day was not a passing thing. It stayed with him. The seed planted that day continues to grow. We can even see how his inner transformation has manifested on the outside. He has a new child and a new job. He’s stayed out of trouble (keeping his promise not to rob again) and is taking care of his family. And he is apparently doing well enough that he can pay Sohail back with interest.
In addition, there are a couple of other Course teachings I see demonstrated by these later events. The first is the Course’s teaching on the role of gratitude in the process of salvation. The Course tells us that one of the most powerful ways the forgiver’s gift returns to him — a way that teaches him that he is an innocent Son of God and thus enables him to experience forgiveness and salvation for himself — is through the gratitude of the one he has forgiven. The recipient of the forgiver’s gift sees the light of God in him, and responds accordingly. You see this idea, for instance, in passages like these:
The joy of teaching will yet be yours. For the joy of teaching is in the learner, who offers it to the teacher in gratitude, and shares it with him. (T-16.III.7:3-4)
The sick, who ask for love, are grateful for it, and in their joy they shine with holy thanks. And this they offer you who gave them joy. They are your guides to joy. (T-13.VI.10:5-7)
As [the light in you] shines your brothers see it, and realizing that this light is not what you have made, they see in you more than you see. (T-14.II.4:4)
Sohail regards himself as a “very little man” who did nothing special, but the man he helped sees more in him than he sees. And however humble Sohail’s public response has been, imagine the joy he must have felt deep inside while reading the man’s letter. How would you feel if you almost killed a man, but instead put down your gun and offered him help, and saw that action completely transform his life? How would you feel if the man then verbally expressed to you his immense gratitude for changing his life forever? When you see such concrete evidence of the goodness that came forth from you, wouldn’t you feel more pure, more innocent, more forgiven than ever before? As Robert likes to say, if to err is human and to forgive divine, wouldn’t you feel divine?
The second demonstration of a Course teaching has to do with the man’s monetary gift to Sohail. I’m reminded of the prayer from Lesson 345 of the Workbook:
Father, a miracle reflects Your gifts to me, Your Son. And every one I give returns to me, reminding me the law of love is universal. Even here, it takes a form which can be recognized and seen to work. The miracles I give are given back in just the form I need to help me with the problems I perceive. (W-pII.345.1:1-4)
The “law of love” here is expressed succinctly in the previous lesson: “What I give my brother is my gift to me” (W-pII.344.Heading). This is true of anything I give, but this lesson speaks specifically of miracles: Its title is “I offer only miracles today, for I would have them be returned to me.” So, whenever a person give a miracle — like Sohail helping the man who tried to rob him — that miracle is returned to the one who gave it.
What I want to focus on here, though, is the last line I’ve quoted. Prior to this line, we’ve been told that “the law of love is universal”: It works both in Heaven and on earth. In our current state, of course, the earthly form of the law is much more relevant to our daily lives, so we are assured that even on earth, “it takes a form that can be recognized and seen to work.” What is that form? The last line here tells us: “The miracles I give are given back in just the form I need to help me with the problems I perceive.” In other words, just as the Holy Spirit guides you to give a miracle in the form that would be most helpful to the receiver, the form in which it returns to you is the form that is most helpful to you, the giver.
What follows is a bit of conjecture, but it has at least some basis in the story: Sohail’s joke that his $40 gift “was a good investment” because he got $50 back. It was a joke, but I’m guessing that he truly was glad to get this little surprise in the mail. Convenience stores don’t rake in a lot of money in the best of times; in these hard economic times, I’m sure they’re struggling like every other retail business. I’m willing to bet that this unexpected money was very much needed. So, while of course I don’t know for sure, I can’t help but wonder if the monetary gift was a case of Sohail’s miracle of forgiveness returning to him in just the form he needed to help him with the problems he perceived.
This idea that we receive our miracles back in the form we need to address our own problems is immensely reassuring to me. Of course, this teaching doesn’t mean that we should give to others in expectation that we’ll get particular things back. When Sohail gave the would-be robber the $40 and a loaf of bread, he wasn’t doing it because he thought he would get $50 back later. It was a true gift of the heart, and the content of the gift returning to him was the gratitude of his brother. But all of us struggle with the fear that if we just give give give, we’ll be drained dry. This fear is often what keeps us from giving as much as we could. It is good to know that not only do the miracles we give return to us, but they do so in a way that meets all of our needs: our deep need for love and our earthly needs too. We don’t have to fear that giving miracles will suck the life out of us. As we take care of our brothers, God will take care of us.
Thank you again, Mohammad Sohail and the man whose life you changed forever, for so powerfully demonstrating the beautiful and practical teachings of A Course in Miracles.
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