"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mistaken Identity

Like many Americans, I was not familiar with the Sikh faith until this past week’s horrible tragedy. I had erroneously assumed this group was part of another faith, and I was amazed at my own ignorance. I wonder if the shooter even knew who he was attacking, or if he just assumed he knew. I am guessing the latter is true.

I have been heartened to see the outpouring of support from across the world, and I so hope that for many people like me, we learned a little something. 

One of the most indelible images from 9/11 came that very day, later in the afternoon. I realized that my colleagues and I were stuck in Colorado for a business event, and it was unclear when the airports would reopen. We all just wanted to get home as soon as possible, to be close to our loved ones. I called a local rental car agency and began working on getting a few cars reserved so we could all pile in and start the drive home to California the next day.

I made the reservation and drove over to the rental location and it was a madhouse. The lines were out the door, and people were in various states of grief and shock, some talking non-stop, others in a confused silence. I waited in line, first out in the parking lot, and then slowly, I was in the doorway, making my way through the stanchioned area behind other worried travelers.

The first thing I noticed upon walking in the door was one of the rental agents. He was taller than the others and wearing a turban. My first instinct was that this was NOT the place for him to be at this time. I assumed he was Muslim, and although I knew that didn’t mean he was connected to what had happened, or even that he agreed or condoned the horrific acts, it just seemed to me that it was not the best idea for him to be there given the strong emotions so soon after the tragedy.

I now know from what I have read in the past week that he was almost certainly of the Sikh faith, not Muslim.

As I got closer to the counter, though, I noticed that he was crying. Not just a few tears, but barely able to compose himself. His face was wet with tears, and every now and then, he would stop in the middle of typing in information or printing out invoices to just let himself sob and release the obvious pain he was feeling. I had been trying to keep myself together all day, and at that moment, I broke. I started crying right there. That image of that moment has always been in my mind when I think about that day. As I got even closer, I could hear the way he was speaking to everyone, in such a gentle, caring tone, telling them not to worry about where or when they would return the cars, just to get home, or wherever they needed to be, safely.

As I read and learned more about the Sikh faith this week, everything lined up with this man I remembered. Here is a description of the “heart” of the Sikh faith: devotion to one God, who requires us to uphold equality between women and men and all peoples, and perform seva, service to our community as an expression of our faith.

I mean, honestly, how beautiful is that? How simple and gracious and beautiful.

As I hold the families affected by the shooting in my thoughts and heart, I wish for so many things. 

I wish people would try harder to understand and accept than to judge and hate.

I wish that no one had to fear going to a movie theater or a religious service for any reason.

I wish for the children of the world right now to become the generation that finally gets all of this right.

Big wishes, and probably clouded, optimistic hopes that won’t ever completely come true.

For now, I hope everyone reading this post will read this beautiful piece by Valarie Kaur that touched my heart as I read it yesterday. Click here to read Today, We are All American Sikhs.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Seeing Things

Lately, we have been so wrapped up in our stress, that I can only describe what we have been going though as a feeling of drowning. Every now and then, we come up for air and float for a little while, but before too long, we get pulled under again. There are some possible things lining up for us, but right now, things are still uncertain. I wouldn’t wish this kind of financial stress on anyone.
At times, over the last month especially, I have felt selfish for how wrapped up in everything I have been. I feel like I haven’t been as supportive to my friends, and I haven’t been in touch with everyone as much as I need to. It’s just so hard when things aren’t going well to be all the things you want to be and do all the things you want to do.
Earlier this evening, my husband and I decided to take a walk into town to get our mind off of things and splurge (a whole $5.00) on frozen yogurt. The walk was a pretty good hike each way, and it gave us time to just enjoy the amazing weather and connect and talk.
On the way home, as we passed a little restaurant, I noticed an elderly woman struggling to hold the door and get herself inside. My husband was closer so I pointed her out so he could help. What I thought was a walker was a cart, which apparently held all of her belongings. She looked to me to be at least 80 years old, and her coat and clothing were worn and dirty. There was a definite odor around her and her possessions. She quickly thanked Shea for his help and ushered herself inside.
I was so upset as we walked away, I could barely keep my composure. I always hurt when I see people who are homeless, but when they are elderly, it absolutely tears me up. It breaks my heart to think of anyone at that point in their life, all those years lived, and now here they are in this situation. As we walked away I wondered how she had ended up like this, where she would sleep tonight.
It was a jolt of perspective and a reminder that my situation could be worse, but more than anything I just ached for her. I was upset that we aren’t in a different situation where I could have given her money, made sure she had a meal, and I don’t know what else. I have not been able to get her off of my mind, or the look on her face as we saw her-- really saw her situation-- this look of shame on her face and the way she hurriedly thanked us and moved inside.
The fact is, that especially where we live now (in comparison to other places we have lived) there are more people in this situation. I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago for a meeting in an area I hadn’t been in before, and as I was navigating my way off of the subway and around a few corners to my destination, the sight of so many homeless people sleeping in breezeways and on benches literally slowed me down. I had forgotten how prevalent it is here.
I don’t want to be one of those people who looks away and does nothing. Over the years, so many of my friends have cautioned me about being too tenderhearted, too sensitive. And to be honest, there have been a few times when I have reached out to someone and the situation went sideways. An example: over 10 years ago, while I was working in a pretty big city, I noticed a man every morning as I drove into work. He was using a rickety step ladder as a walker and struggled to slowly make progress heading down the sidewalk. The more I saw him, the more it ate at me. For the first time in my life, I was making decent money, and I felt moved to stop and offer to buy him a decent walker. I had been warned by people in my office about doing this…that you never know how people will accept offers, and to be careful.
Determined, I finally pulled over one afternoon and approached him. It was a busy street and all kinds of people were nearby. I asked the man if he would mind if I helped him get an adequate walker. I explained that I had been through some tough times in my life, and that friends and strangers had helped me in different ways, and I would like to, in a sense, return the favor done for me.
He looked at me as if he was trying to understand what I was saying. I was uncertain for a moment if he understood what I meant. Then, he raised his wobbly stepladder over his head and yelled at me to “mind my own business—that he didn’t need any help, he didn’t ask for it, thank you very much”. He then proceeded to swing the stepladder at me a few times. Luckily, he was slow, and I made a hasty retreat to my car.
After a few “I told you so’s” from the people I worked with, I finally got over the shock and embarrassment. A friend reminded me that if I wanted to help, that it was better to work with an organization and give my time/money that way. I have stubbornly forgotten this advice several more times in my life, and I can honestly say, I have had some bad experiences.
It hasn’t changed that gut-wrenching emotional moment when I see someone like the elderly woman I saw tonight. I am glad I haven’t become so cynical that I can’t feel that.
But, there is a small part of me that wishes this feeling didn’t hang on and bother me so much. I keep looking out my sliding glass door tonight, wondering if she is sleeping outside somewhere in the darkness. I wonder if she has family or if she is alone in the world. I wonder if she is a grandmother. I wonder if she is mentally ill or painfully cognizant of her life right now. I wonder if I could have or should have done anything tonight.
I wonder if I am losing my mind.
All I can do is wonder right now, and try and get some sleep… and be thankful that at least for now, I have a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head, my husband next to me, and a 100 pound dog who will likely try and take over most of the space on our mattress tonight. Not insignificant things at all, and things I try to never take for granted.
Tonight, I definitely won’t.

The artwork pictured is by Fanny Allie and is part of an installation called "The Glowing Homeless". Click here to learn more about the artist and her work.



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