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Elizabeth Smart

"I needed to leave that in my past. I needed to let go of it and move forward. Forgiveness really is not for the other person."


It has been nearly 16 years since Elizabeth Smart, then 14 years old, was kidnapped at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City home. She was held captive for nine months and then dramatically rescued in March of 2003. Her ordeal was front page news across the nation—but that was then.

Today, Smart is a wife, mother of two and author of a new book, Where There's Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up. She'll appear at the Grove Hotel in Boise on Thursday, April 5, for an author talk and book signing sponsored by Rediscovered Books.

Your book is very much an odyssey: It features you traveling the U.S. and listening to victims of violence, disease, war and loss.

Time after time, I've had people come up to me after a presentation and share their own stories with me. It's one thing to know the statistics, but it's another to put faces to those numbers. It makes it much more real. I also do a lot of Q&A sessions. And more and more people ask, "Have you forgiven your captors?" "How do you deal with anger?" "Where do you find hope?" People are searching for the answers for themselves, as well. That was my inspiration for my new book.

The most poignant interviews in the book, at least for me, were with your mother and father.

Over the years, I've spoken extensively with my parents about what happened to me. But I had never done it in a formal setting before. As I interviewed my parents for the book, it brought a new understanding for me, because now I'm a parent. I have a little girl and a little boy ... I understand their perspective. Before I was always listening as a child. Now, I'm listening as a fellow parent.

A few years back, you helped create an online psychology class with Dr. Paul Jenkins. I'm particularly intrigued by what Dr. Jenkins has to say about forgiveness in your book. He says, "Snakes are going to be snakes. Forgiveness is about acknowledging that the snake is a snake; and if it bites you, you're not going to chase it down. You're going to focus on getting the venom out of your system. Forgiveness is really a healing gift that we give ourselves. It has nothing to do with the other person."

It made so much sense to me, because there are so many people out there who get hurt, and they have no control over the people or circumstances that hurt them, but it causes great pain. Take my situation, for example. My captors will probably never say "sorry" to me. They will probably never feel bad for what they did. They'll never feel bad for kidnapping me, for raping me, for chaining me up. They'll never feel bad for that. The only thing they might feel bad for is that they got caught. But for me, it's important to be able to move on, because if I continually hold onto that pain, that means I will never be able to live my life 100 percent, because there would be a part of me that would be stuck in the past, and still holding onto what happened.

It's important for me to acknowledge what happened to me. It was terrible. I had every right to be angry, to feel frustrated, to ask, "Why me? Why did this have to happen to me?" It was important to acknowledge all those feelings, but then to get to a point where I needed to leave that in my past. I needed to let go of it and move forward. Forgiveness really is not for the other person. You may have heard it a thousand times that forgiveness should really only be for yourself. But still, we continue to think of forgiveness, we think of it [as] inextricably tied to another person, when really, that's not the case. You don't need two people to achieve forgiveness. You need one: yourself.

How has your concept of the myth or reality of "happily ever after" evolved over the years?

When we were thinking of a title for the book, I thought maybe we should call it The Myth of Happily Ever After, because there's really no such thing as happily ever after. Maybe that sounds a bit cynical, but I thought, "No matter where you are in life, you're going to have challenges. You're going to have trials. Life isn't perfect. Happily ever after doesn't really exist."

Does happily ever after mean perfection? Does it mean that nothing bad will ever happen again? Does it mean there's no pain or suffering left in life? Because if that's the case, I was absolutely right. Happily ever after didn't exist.

But every single person I spoke with [for the book] said, "Yes, I do believe in happily ever after." To them, it didn't mean that life was perfect. But it meant that you got to a state in life where you could be happy. You could accept things as they came, and you could pursue your goals. As I sat there, listening to everyone, I asked myself what I [had] wanted fifteen years ago. I wanted to be married. I wanted to have a family. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to travel around the world. And then I looked at where I am today, and realized that I'm actually living my happily ever after. I'm married to my best friend. I have two children who are the world to me. I'm doing something that's meaningful, and hopefully making a difference. So, yes, I am in fact living my happily ever after.