I read this article after the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin. The reporter quoted a victim’s family member at the scene of the horror, he said that when he heard the news, “it was like the heart just sat down.“ This shooting, coming so soon on the heels of another American shooting in Colorado, and the one before that and the one before that, and what is there to say but I’m so so so sorry. God. God.
I first became acquainted with the Sikh faith when I was 16. I covered my long red hair with a wide headscarf, went to a temple. It was a field trip for World Religions, and we arrived, teenage-obnoxious, a list of likely-ignorant questions scribbled. I left my Docs at the door for the women, rejoined the boys. After the tour, we quietly observed a service, then we went to a separate room to gather in a circle, sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the soft carpeting around our welcoming host. We asked questions about his faith, about how it “felt” to be Sikh in Canada (he laughed), about their history, about family dynamics, the differences between Sikhism and Christianity, what they believed and practiced and what was with the little knives. Nearly twenty years later, I remember our tall host, he was so gentle and wise, so kind to this group of evangelical kids from Calgary, he blessed us in our ignorance. My friend snapped a picture of me standing there in the parking lot on our way out, we wanted to remember how we looked in the head coverings, I was grinning wide at the novelty. I scribbled a few notes down: The Five K’s, the Five Thieves, something something something, truth, justice, karma, equality, peace, a few doodles on the margins.
Now, we live in a community that is home to the first Sikh temple in Canada more than 100 years ago, the Gur Sikh Temple on South Fraser Way, and more than a third of my town is South Asian. My husband’s hard-working and generous clients invite him over for tandoori, our tinies dance to Bhangra music at the insurance agency customer appreciation days. The democracy of public school and soccer practice and work blends us all in together, and here, you’re as likely to see a Nishan Sahib decal as a Christian fish, on the back of the minivans at the mall. There is ignorance here, too, racism and exclusivity, no doubt, but we live together somehow.
When my eldest daughter was two, she thought the Indian ladies shopping beside us at the Superstore were real-live-princesses, she followed their bright sunset orange saris and gauzy scarves covering long ropes of black hair, and they chuckled kindly at her obvious wonder over their beauty. We nod hello to each other, the picnic tables of men in turbans at the park, they’re solving the world’s problems apparently. On Saturday nights, our chain restaurants on the west side play Hockey Night in Canada on one TV, the Punjabi feed for the same hockey game is on the other, men in turbans and dark beards calling the plays on the ice. On Canada Day, we danced to Dehli 2 Dublin at the exhibition grounds, the fireworks banging into the night sky, to the strains of Celtic-Punjabi-fusion. I admit it: I guard the location of my favourite hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant like a treasure, lest it become popular with the hipsters.
Hard conversations are coming, perhaps legislation, around gun control, about hatred, racism, religion, about our culture’s glorification of violence, our nationalism, and the divisions between us, yes, those conversations need to happen, but not just now: now is the time for grieving, now is the time for loving, for burying, for mourning with those who mourn, for gathering humanity together, and for compassion.
I believe that it is precisely because of my Christian faith that I am sitting my heart down, mourning with those that mourn, grieving and honouring, loving and praying. Love casts out fear, and may the mouths of the faithful be filled with words of Love and hope and peace, never fear.
So yes, my heart is sitting down, my friends, my neighbours, we are all with you, too, we’ll bear witness and stand with you.
My heart will sit down with your own heart, I’ll light my candle and say my common prayers for your grieving and your wounded, for us all. And then we will rise up again.