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.