If She Can Forgive, You Can Too

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I want to tell you the story of Trisha Meili.

It’s a story that hits close to my heart because I remember when it was being covered by every news outlet in the country. At the time of the story, Trisha was a 28-year old investment banker at Salomon Brothers in New York City. She had graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College and had two masters’ degrees from Yale University. She regularly jogged six miles in Central Park after work to cope with the stress of her high-powered job. On April 19, 1989, she became known not as Trisha Meili, but as the “Central Park Jogger.”  

She was the victim of something called “wilding” which was a term used when a gang of young people went on a long and violent rampage in a public place, attacking people at random. Trisha was one of many who were attacked that night in and around Central Park. The story has changed over time, but it seems a gang of young men grabbed her, tied her up, repeatedly raped and sodomized her, and beat her into a coma which lasted for almost two weeks. She had deep scalp lacerations and skull fractures. Her brain was swollen. Her eye had exploded from its socket. She had lost 80% of her blood and she was found unconscious and tied up, her body jerking uncontrollably because of massive brain damage. She, in fact, had to be tied to a gurney that night in the hospital because there wasn’t enough staff to watch over her. One of her physicians testified that “she hung onto life by a thread.”

Amazingly, she woke up, but found she couldn’t walk, talk, feed or dress herself. She had to relearn everything. She spent seven weeks in mostly acute care in the hospital and then endured months of painful rehab.

This vital, accomplished young woman had been reduced to almost ashes. To this day, she has no memory of her attack while running on the night of April 19, 1989. Doctors questioned whether she would survive, and if she did, whether she would be in a vegetative state.

Twelve days after the attack, Meili emerged from a deep coma. About four weeks later, she was told what happened. But it took some time for her badly damaged brain to process the extent of her injuries. Unbelievably, after five months of rehabilitation, she returned to her apartment and her job at Salomon. And she returned to running on weekends in Central Park. “I think part of it was my defiant nature,” she said, adding that she was never assaulted again.

“I was going to show whoever did this that you are not going to stop me.” In 1995, Meili ran the New York City Marathon, and the last leg goes through Central Park. It was a glorious day, she said, filling her with pride in her recovery and her physical, mental and emotional state.

Somehow, she didn’t give up and she didn’t stay a victim.

Through her own sheer determination and willpower, she fought her way back and was, ultimately, able to return to work! Incredible! While she still liked her job, she was having trouble reconciling what happened to her. Was she just supposed to go back to her previous life as if nothing had happened?

She was angry. She had to figure out a way to make sense of the horrible thing that happened to her. She ended up forgiving whoever attacked her, but the real issue underneath it all was she had to forgive herself. She had been warned on multiple occasions not to jog alone but had decided, arrogantly she realized, that she’d be fine. It wasn’t just a horrible time for her after she was attacked, but her family also “went through hell.” All because she’d made this decision and thought nothing would ever happen to her.

She left Salomon in 1998 and became president of a New York nonprofit that offered no-interest loans to the working poor. She also gives her time as founding chair to Achilles International, whose mission is to enable people with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics. And she’s a sought-after motivational speaker. So, Trisha Meili did change after what happened to her.

We all change with our life experiences. As this woman exemplifies, the difference between being victimized in some way and being a victim is epically huge. It’s inevitable that things you don’t want to happen, will happen. Your partner will upset you, infuriate you and disappoint you. Your brother might criticize or betray you. Your boss could humiliate or undermine you. It all sucks! It’s hard to remember that it’s up to you to decide what to do with the experience. No one experience needs to define you. Choose what you’re going to do with any situation. You can take something like infidelity in the relationship and turn it into a new beginning for the two of you.

You can choose to make sense of it.

Why did this happen? What does it mean? How can you use it to create something new in your life that helps move you forward?

Forgiveness is a time of asking yourself questions, not of staying stuck in blame, doubt or rage. How can you move yourself and your life forward? What steps do you need to take to permanently move from whatever pain you’re in, to living the life you want?

Remember this quote from Hillel:

"If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?"

CouplesKate Rufener