Grieving in a sea of Sikhs

View Photo Gallery: After a shooting at a temple in Wisconsin leaves six dead, Sikhs and their supporters mourn while the … Continued


View Photo Gallery: After a shooting at a temple in Wisconsin leaves six dead, Sikhs and their supporters mourn while the nation learns more about the gunman’s ties to the white supremacy movement.

Before September, 2001, I knew no Sikhs. Although I’m Jewish, I’ve become close friends with Sikh families, including the family of the first person murdered in the violent backlash following 9/11.

Balbir Singh Sodhi’s murder on Sept. 15, 2001, drew me into an ongoing vortex of concern for such attacks, which deepens each time I hear pundits, politicians and others foment fear and hate of people I’m quite certain they’ve rarely, if ever, personally known.

In my compulsion to promote cross-cultural understanding, I strive to prevent such tragedies as the one that occurred in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, earlier this month.

Last Friday I attended the funeral ceremony in Oak Creek, grieving the massacre there among thousands of other attendants. I was shepherded by Sukhdev Ghuman, the president of the Palatine Gurdwara, who took me under her wing as an ally to the community.

I entered the high school gymnasium where the memorial was held before I realized I was about to file past open caskets of the six victims. They looked peaceful. I was in shock even though I’ve worried about such an act, in light of how effectively fear-mongers peddle their wares, seemingly careless for any collateral damage they cause.

I was introduced to Jagjit Kaleka, the brother of the heroic president of the Oak Creek temple who died struggling to stave off the murderer. He greeted me with the warmest handshake and smile and told me his brother “did what he was meant to do” and was at peace. I felt like collapsing in grief but he and all the Sikhs around me seemed almost serene. They, apparently, had already transcended grief.

There was not one murmur of anger, hate or even a sense of victimization. Instead, I felt their communal commitment to remain peaceful even in the face of violence. The community would not let that force win by pulling them into bitterness or vengefulness. There was no sense of inner struggle, whatsoever.  

There was grace, peace and sweetness. In their commitment to hospitality, Sikh ushers handed water bottles and wrapped vegetarian sandwiches down the rows.  

Looking at pictures of the funeral, you might assume from the many people wearing head-coverings that most people present were Sikh. But multitudes of attendants were either respectfully wearing their own hats or scarves or square bandanas provided at the service. But it was the turbans that most riveted me.  I noticed for the first time the apparently infinite variations of how to create them.  They seemed like intricate works of art, as individual as each wearer.

I have used art since 9/11 to grapple with my concern for innocent people who suffer as a result of Islamophobic and xenophobic agitating by people who parlay stereotyping into votes, money and notoriety.

I painted the twin towers with two men superimposed; instead of airplanes, guns were aimed. Destruction reverberated. My caption: “If hate is the problem, How can hate be the solution?” I wanted to evoke the innocent Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Arab Christian and other innocent men murdered in America in the days and weeks following 9/11. 

I also sculpted a plaster figure of a man with a white turban holding a giant rose.  It was surprisingly difficult to wind the turban. I wanted to understand the sweetness and ease I now associate with Sikhs, and somehow I thought that wrapping a band of cloth on a sculpted head could help me. I’ve read that turbans touch pressure points that promote calmness and clarity. Catholics, Jews and Muslims also utilize head coverings to impact consciousness. Yet it is turbans that have literally drawn fire upon Sikhs by those who denigrate them as “towels” or “rags.”

Sikhs feed all who enter their house of worship and they would have happily fed the man who shattered their lives in Oak Creek. Rather than partake of their communion, he wrought destruction. While he created tragic, horrific loss and heartache in the Sikh community, he utterly failed in destroying that community. Almost immediately, they were calmly and resolutely restoring their peaceful sanctuary, which they also carry within.


Anya Cordell is a speaker, writer, recipient of a 2010 Spirit of Anne Frank Award, and author of RACE: An OPEN & SHUT Case.

About

  • Dallas Islam Examiner

    This tragedy brought under the national spotlight an example of an American community, united and compassionate. Hopefully it will trigger more interfaith initiatives in opening dialogues among Americans and most importantly, more voices against hate and hate speech. Hate is a heart disease that is rooted in the lack of knowledge or in misconceptions. This is where we need to start to cure that disease. Thank you for writing this piece; it’s informative and inspiring.

  • Dallas Islam Examiner

    This tragedy brought under the national spotlight an example of an American community, united and compassionate. Hopefully it will trigger more interfaith initiatives in opening dialogues among Americans and most importantly, more voices against hate and hate speech. Hate is a heart disease that is rooted in the lack of knowledge or in misconceptions. This is where we need to start to cure that disease. Thank you for writing this piece; it’s informative and inspiring.

  • Andrea Scrima

    this is a valuable, striking, compassionate account of the kind that has been sorely missing from the media coverage on this event. Thank you for writing it – and thank to the wp for publishing.

  • Joe McMahon

    I can only wish that some who have never understood who Sikhs are and what they stand for will learn – and perhaps learn form them values that would be good for us all.

    It should not come from a tragedy, but from a desire to know and care about others. I can’t hope that every unthinking person who classes all “brown people who dress funny” will learn, but perhaps a few candles will blaze up and lighten that darkness.

Read More Articles

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.