Earlier today I wrote about the positive response to my adoption of Sikhi from my immediate communities – my friends, my loving and beautiful daughter, my colleagues at work and my colleagues in Court. I said that there were some exceptions and I promised to talk about those.
I went into all of this without being naive, having spent two years learning and deciding and then making a decision to live openly as a practising Sikh. I knew there would be some friends that would distance themselves from me. I understood that there would be stares, comments that came from a place of ignorance and other comments that skip the ignorance and go straight to hatred. I also know that in today’s world, I face a risk of violence just for being who I am and without doing anything that harms anyone else. In fact, an attack on a dear friend just because he wears a turban proved that to me only a week after my conversion. I’m not a stranger to this type of behaviour – I was born into a world filled with ignorance and racism. I’ve spent my entire life fighting it. I understood very well that my choice to live openly as a Sikh would mean that the fight would become that much more personal.
I’m not afraid of that. By Waheguru’s grace, I was born unafraid and ready to fight the fight against hate, oppression and injustice. I was born a Sikh, like the title of this blog says.
I also went into this knowing that the vast majority of people would not make any issue of the visible signs of my faith one way or the other. That’s how most people are, in my experience – just good people.
So on to the exceptions. Coming home through the Calgary International Airport with a keshi on my head and kara on my arms was an experience I won’t soon forget. Other travellers were fine – particularly those who saw my kara and keshi and understood what it meant. The blonde woman at the security line though – first class jerk. She asked me whether I would remove my kara. I said no thanks. She said “whatever, most of them take them off.” The emphasis is hers, not mine and left me no doubt that Sikhs in her mind were clearly not part of “us” or “we”. I responded politely and said I would not remove them but I was more than happy to have them wand me or do whatever other search they felt appropriate. That lead to a full body pat down including the waistband of my pants and feeling for underwire in my bra in public. I was not offered a private space as I should have been, according to CATSA policy. I remained polite throughout however, knowing that any real argument would likely make it worse. I got on the plane only mildly inconvenienced and wrote the experience off to ignorance.
I went happily on my way, not daunted in the least by the ignorance. Then I had coffee with a friend today. A friend… I hardly know what to call him any more actually. He was one person I had been cautious about telling because he’s said a thing or two in the past that made me go HMMM, as Arsenio Hall would say. I had a whole list of other people that I intended to tell before I talked about it with him. Except I didn’t get a chance. I told him during coffee that I was frustrated with learning to wrap a keshi and that all my attempts looked very sad, lopsided or would fall apart. He then said loudly, “do they think you’re changing from Buddhism? You’re not a fucking Sikh!” then he added, as if for emphasis “Don’t come in here with one of those things on your head if you think I’m going to sit down and have coffee with you.”
If I had already told him about my conversion (as if it wasn’t already obvious from my head cover and my kara and our recent conversations where I’ve shared some of what I’ve learned of Sikhi), then he might not have said something like that. That would have been good right? Not really. I just wouldn’t have known how he really felt and likely would have wondered what was going on as he stopped talking to me. At least now I know.
Or… if I had told him earlier he might have told me exactly how he felt and I would have lost a friend anyway. Either way, I’m one friend fewer than I was when I got up this morning. That’s okay. His hate, whatever it’s about, is his issue and not mine. The fact that I would never have treated him the same way, the fact that I would never have judged him for his past or his personal choices, none of that matters. His hate is not going to change my decision and it is not going to intimidate me. I’m not going to “dress down” or change in any way in response to it. Keeping a friend who has those thoughts, is not worth it. Besides, dealing with that sort of behaviour is the theme of my life and I’ve been dealing with it long before I even knew him.
The Gurus tell us to be courageous in the face of that sort of hate, to respect that Waheguru exists even in the most hateful people, and to stand up bravely for what is right. If that’s good for the Gurus, Martin Luther King Jr. (who I like to think would have complemented my turban had I ever had the privilege to sit down for a coffee with him), and Nelson Mandela then that’s good enough for me.
I’ll continue to love my former friend for just who he is. I’m sad that our relationship took this turn, but my faith remains strong.
In fact, everytime I encounter ignorance and hatred, it only makes my will to fight stronger. It only makes my belief in Sikhi stronger.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa
Waheguru ji ki Fateh