I want to tell the story of a woman who was dramatically changed by the attack on the Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Wisconsin this past August. I would like to write the story of an everyday sort of heroine, a woman who ardently worked towards something important after the attack. I know that at first she would follow the news, in shock like many others, deeply saddened in a way that she did not expect. She would publicly contribute kind words of solidarity to the Oak Creek community and maybe travel there to help. She wrote and spoke to her family and shared some of her grief. She sank into her husband’s arms at night and they spoke in soft tones of their pain that once again Sikhs had been targeted.
In the days that followed she sharpened all the kirpans in their home although many could not hold an edge. She reflected on a friend who is a knife maker who complained about the quality of kirpans most Sikhs carry. She was dismayed that the attacker at Oak Creek was not impeded by a kirpan. She speculated that not even the president of the Gurdwara Sahib had a kirpan that he felt would be effective and instead took a knife from the kitchen to try to fend off the attacker. Due to the president’s courage, strength and persistence he did slow down the assailant, but maybe it would have been different.
She wrote to her Sikh friends to encourage them to read the Siri Guru Granth Sahib ji, their sacred text and living Guru, to read it together in what is called a Sahej Path in an act of prayer, unity and hope and to offer solace to herself and her community. She enrolled in a self-defense course. She worked with others in her community to develop a knife skills class and lobbied to find an instructor of Gatka, Sikh martial arts. She attended services at her local Gurdwara Sahib and joined an interfaith group to share life experiences and shared love of a universal God with people of many other faiths. She volunteered where there were needs both inside and outside of her Sikh community. She contacted her local news stations and government officials to increase awareness about Sikhism. She actively campaigned for gun control. She did all these things and she was changed, strengthened, more prepared, and so was her community. The very definition of what was her community expanded.
I wish I knew that woman. I would like to be that woman. I envy her strength and her ability to take action. I know there are many men and women out there that have done these simple yet great acts with spirit and fortitude that I admire. As for myself, I feel disconnected from my base Sikh community by geographical distance and from a local community by a psychological distance, but that is more excuse than reality. I did do some of the things imagined here, but I don’t feel changed and I will never feel that it is enough. I still feel mournful. My grief is combined with sadness about Sandy Hook, about rapes and the status of women in India, about stories that I cannot write about, not yet. For myself, isolated as I am from a Sikh community, I feel my best option is to write. However, I have to find a way to layer the fiction and craft in my attempt at writing those stories. I have to explore more of this imaginary woman.
As I write, I realize something has changed, but not in a way that I had expected. What has changed is that finally I am writing and writing publicly. I am not so bold as to call it courage but certainly it is hard for me and has taken me a long, long time to be willing to allow others to read my expressions, my attempts.
A wise friend once told me that among women our gift is sharing our vulnerability to help others; it conquers fear and makes us more free, more open to new possibilities. Perhaps I will never be the passionate heroine, boldly fighting injustice, but I am more open to the possibility of re-defining what is my community and the possibility that through this we all can be strengthened.
http://www.sikhchic.com/current_events/oak_creek_in_memoriam highlights stories of real life courage