A Gurdwara is a Sikh religious temple . It is a wonderful place, and thousands of people visit one every day around the world. It is open every day of the week for anyone who wishes to come and pray or simply sit in quiet thought. During weekends it is filled with the musical sounds of Kirtan (prayers), the smells of Langar (shared meal), the sight of children playing. It is a place where people find peace and connect with God.
I am an American Christian and in 2010 I married an Indian Sikh. Since our marriage we have attended a Gurdwara nearly every weekend. Our four year old daughter loves going to the Gurdwara and gets so excited every time we place the chunni ( scarf) on her head. Even as a christian I find peace in these Sikh temples. There is just something magical about these holly places. A deep sense of peace and harmony. A shared commitment to God and to doing good in the world.
That feeling of peace was forever changed for me one day in 2012.
On August 5, 2012, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page fatally shot six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Wade Page was an Army veteran that was discharged from the military for misconduct that included drinking while on duty. He was a known white supremacist and had a hatred for all people of color. He took his own life on that day, so his motivations behind the shooting are not completely known even now.
Six Sikhs were killed while they prayed for peace! Six devoted Sikhs had their lives brutally taken from them! More lives would have been taken if it were not for the brave acts of Lt. Brian Murphy, the first police officer on the scene. He sustained 15 gun shot wounds, lived, and protected the survivors in the Gurdwara! He shot Wade Page in the abdomen, who than took his own life and ended the violence . Here is Lt. Brian Murphys story.
I can not in one article explain the terror that Michael Page inflicted on these people and the whole Sikh community! Today in this post I will reflect on the effect these eventshad on me, thousands of miles away.
I remember that day vividly. I am not one to watch the news very often in the house, the events are usually too sad to watch with a small child. I was on social media and someone had posted a link about the shooting. I ran to the Television to see the horrible images of crying Sikhs outside of the Wisconsin Gurdwara! The details that came in were horrifying. A gun man killing innocent men and women as they prayed. A police officer in critical care after sustaining fifteen gun shot wounds. No answers just questions! Who was this shooter? Why did he do it? Why Sikhs???? On top of everything I thought, would it happen again?!
My husband was outraged! More angry then I had ever seen! For years Sikhs have been persecuted in India for their faith. Their most holy place, The Golden Temple, attacked by the Indian military in 1984 killing thousands of innocent people. Why was this happening here?! The United States is supposed to be a place of religious freedom, and still people die because of their faith!
That day we were invited to attend our best friend’s daughter’s 1st birthday langar ( meal and prayers) event at the Gurdwara in Stockton. We drove the two hours in silence, neither of us knew what to even say! We were afraid, angry, and shocked. I was afraid! I had never thought about the possibility of an attack on a peaceful Gurdwara!! Now it was all I could think about! WHY? What threat were these people! The congregation did community service, prayed, and ate together. These people cared most about God! The men wore beards and turbans and the women covered their heads. Did this shooter hate them because of this ?! He hate them enough to kill them?! Are there others like him ready to take the lives of people that are different?! I became afraid, and I know this is selfish, but I could only think, ” what if it happened to us?”.
When we entered the Gurdwara we put on a brave face. It was a joyous event but behind every Sat Sri Akal ( hello) and every welcoming smile, there was a fear and an anger! “Why did he do it??!!”
I bowed before the Guru Granth Sahib ( holly book and alter) and I did not feel that peace as before. I could not close my eyes in prayer. I felt hyper aware. In my mind I was distracted by the thoughts of escape routes and plans! I wanted to loose myself in prayer. To forget it all and feel safe, but I could not shed the fear! What were the last moments of the victim’s lives like? What were their families going through! WHY DID HE DO IT!! Would it happen again?!
Had my husband always lived with this reality? This fear! Was it just new to me. Was I so naive to think that we were safe and that others respected our right to be different and to pray to God in our own way! Is a cloth on the head that frightening! How could someone hate so deeply someone they do not even know?! How could a person take the life of someone ?! I had all of these questions!
It has been two years since that horrible event! There has not been another shooting in a Sikh Gurdwara in the United States, thank God. My fear have calmed down a bit, but I still feel the tension when I walk into a Gurdwara. I still feel the fear when I watch people observe my husband when he wears his turban. I wonder what people are thinking. Is there hate behind those eyes? Is there another Wade Michael Page planning his attack? Are we safe? I wonder what the fear is like for the people most effected by this attack! Do they ever feel peace in the Gurdwara? Do they feel anger! Do they ask WHY?!
When I pray I do so with one eye open and a plan for escape.
When I pray I pray for peace and understanding.
When I pray I ask God to take the fear away.
When I pray I imagine a better world.
Let us all pray for a better world, because every life is important!