by Preeti Kaur, guest contributor
In the Sikh faith, the role of the nurturer is one, among many, of the celebrated roles of all Sikhs, regardless of gender. My own father often reminisces to me of how his mother would nurture his growth and curiosity by imparting Sikh teachings to him while he was growing up in Dharamsala, India as a post-Partition refugee family. Everyday when he returned from school, his mother recited the Janam Saakhis, a collection of “birth stories” based on the life and lessons of the first Sikh guru, Nanak Dev Ji. He remembers this nurturing time as his favorite time of the day.
I recently saw a video of Harneel Singh, an extraordinarily eloquent young American man, describing his painful experience growing up as a Sikh boy wearing a patka (a Sikh mini-turban) in school, where he was often taunted and bullied. He speaks very freely that his experience is something familiar to many young people.
The patka is worn by children in preparation for wearing a full turban as a grown Sikh. Many young Sikh boys wear patkas throughout the world, including in America, where Sikhs have lived for over one hundred years. As adults, many Sikh men (and some Sikh women) wear a full turban, or dastaar, as a display of their commitment to accepting their body as it has grown and to distinguish themselves as physically committed to a path of justice. The global political climate of recent years, where turbans are inaccurately portrayed as the garb of global terror, has increased suspicion and violence against turban-wearing Sikhs especially in the form of hate crimes, down to the youngest members of our society in the form of school bullying.
Harneel Singh shares the tender points of his story because he has been nurtured to a point of strength — perhaps through his mother or father, or perhaps through his friends, or the adults in his life, or perhaps even by nurturing his own self, giving birth to a reflective young man.
The following poem, written for the young men who wear turbans in my life, is to honor all steps in the process of nurturing. This includes the process of negative experiences entering our lives — where it is cold, where it is dark — which provide us an opportunity to nurture others and ourselves.
where ever it is dark
after school i tell my mummy
i don’t want to go back tomorrow
she asks me why
i tell her today in the playground
kids push me punch me kick me
shout POTATO HEAD! RAG HEAD! ALLADIN! OSAMA BIN LADIN!
everything i am not
i throw fists back call them ugly
things too i imagine the bullies
as yellow toothed neon green eyed gorillas
like the ones in my closet at night
my cheeks burn my heart thumps
i am MAD i didn’t start this! i am just one
no one listens when i yell STOP IT! LEAVE ME ALONE!
i want to hide in a tent made of my sky blue bed sheets
i wish for a galactic force field
but no hands shield my head
when the bullies rip my
patka off my head
there is no superman
on this playground not even pretend
not sammy who i swing with
everyday on the monkey-bars
or alberto who swaps strawberry jelly sandwiches
with me in the cafeteria
not jenny who i tell knock-knock jokes with on the bus
not even the adults who patrol the playground
with whistles and detention slips to the principal’s office
so everyone might follow the rules
after bloody noses bruises scratches
after we are trees pulled out of the ground
a pile of mud surrounding us
our teacher mrs. jones sits us down
why did you punch back she asks
the teacher pulls me out of the ground some more
inside i am not a tree
inside i am a match
like the ones my daddy warns me not to play with
an orange blue fire on a stick of arms and legs
which grows short in two seconds
burning my insides too fast
i go home and cry and cry
i tell my mummy everything
mummy wraps her arms around my shoulders tells
me she loves me with her eyes
she unwraps my joora lets loose
my long hair runs her fingers through
mummy whispers your hair
is the night sky your hair
is the universe she combs
my kes with a kanga
twists my hair firm on top of my head
a galaxy you carry high mummy says
she takes the square patka
angles the cloth like a diamond
sets the patka on my scalp
ties it tight
mummy tells me this patka crowns you
one day you will wear a turban
cloth as long as the seven oceans
the full span of the earth
will rest on your head
be brave young prince
like Sahibzaadas Zorawar Singh Fateh Singh
when bullies big as kings
threaten them for carrying the universe on their heads
when bullies locked them
three nights in the cold in the dark
they raised their chins high no tears
they turned their fists to hearts
practiced the ways of the lion prince
with questions and conversation
my cheeks i kiss her back
i tell her i will go back
to school tomorrow i will be
a shooting star prince
bright and brave
where ever it is cold
where ever it is dark
This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my own mother and I celebrate the nurturing spirit which we can each inculcate by sharing the stories of our lives, our own janam sakhis, our own birth stories.
Preeti Kaur is an American of the Sikh faith living in San Joaquin Valley, California. You can read more of her poetry at The World I Stitch.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
by Sarah J. Hart, guest contributor
My last two years in Brooklyn I felt fortunate to have the view I did. My windows faced east, and, although the blank wall of another building loomed large directly in front, to the right grew a luscious tree and above was an unobstructed view of sky. I often woke at dawn and would stand on the fire escape and soak in the morning, while it still felt clear and clean.
Over the five years I lived in “the city” I learned to train my eyes away from a lot of what was around me: trash exploded from vandalized garbage bags; the grey on brown on dingy grey of sidewalk, street, and dirty buildings; tawdry advertisements; glaring lights. Instead I’d glue my gaze on any scrap of nature available: a leaf splattered on the curb; weeds flourishing in an empty lot; wheeling pigeons, making the sky sparkle with their sunlit wings. By the end of my five years in NYC I felt I struggled endlessly to find enough beauty that I might endure the ugly. “This is absurd,” I thought. “Clearly the city is the wrong environment for me.”
In January of this year I had the opportunity to move out and, with great relief, I did.
Now I live in the woods. There are no other houses in sight. I am on 40 acres, embraced in a bear hug of state land. When I look out my window, I see only beauty: layers of hemlock, bright clusters of beech leaves, spindly maples with slender branches that shatter the sky.
Whether it’s a sun-soaked day that impels me to shut my computer and go out for a walk (or at least to do something useful, like fill the wood box) or an overcast one with a moody sky and pinches of sleet, I see that there is always a perfect harmony in the colors and textures around me. In the woods I am humbled — in that way that’s also elating — with the reminder of all the living and dying and churning forth of ephemeral beauty that is happening around me all the time, whether I am paying attention or not.
Living in such an environment induces a certain shrinking down to size, and a correlating peace with one’s place in this world. Red squirrels and red maples do not seem to fret over the “good enough-ness” of their lives, and it starts to feel a bit out of line to do so myself. I see their perfection — the kind that is inherent rather than measurable — and find it easier to see that same quality in myself as well, ongoing toils notwithstanding.
But of course, I could have felt this in the city. Strictly speaking, the city is no less a natural environment than the one up here. It too evolved from the tumble of cause and effect of living things trying to survive. It is certainly no less vibrant an ecosystem. True, in an urban landscape the parameters of opportunity and constraint are mostly man-made, but they yield an abundance of variety equivalent to that in a woodland environment. There’s differentiation, specialization, and the endless burgeoning of micro-complexity within the larger landscape.
Indeed, there was a time when the city inspired in me similar feelings as the woods do now. I moved there at a time in my life of greedy growth, too hungry for the tidy flower box of a town I lived in. New York City had the appeal of wilderness — an expanse of unknown, potential, and gritty reality.
To love the city is to feel a great compassion for the swarms of other people around you. All those lives, all that urgent self preservation, the palpable vulnerability and ferocity. The beauty of it can break your heart.
“A man never discloses his own character so clearly as when he describes that of another,” an insightful person is said to have said. This observation is true. And it also applies to our descriptions of the world around us. What we see in the landscape outside the window is, truly, a window onto the landscape inside.
New York City lost its beauty not because it changed (if anything it has become thrillingly greener in the years since I moved there, what with the urban agriculture movement, the roof top farms, and so on) but because I lost my ability to see it. My dissatisfaction with the city increased in direct correlation with my dissatisfaction with my life and dissatisfaction with myself for failing to improve that life. The fewer hopes and ambitions I managed to fulfill, the fewer opportunities the city seemed to provide for peace, contentment, and happiness. I condemned it as a place of harsh judgment and didn’t notice that I was the harshest judge.
I moved to the woods to gain a reprieve from the city, but what I really gained is a reprieve from myself. Of course, the change of view outside my window is very real, and one I appreciate intensely, but I know the significant change is actually in my point of view. Bickering at the corner deli used to make me groan, but squabbles of the same order at the birdfeeder make me giggle. I wince at lurid colors in plastic, but delight in the same hues when discovered in lichen. Although I’m a bit of an oddity in the small town I now call home, I feel thoroughly comfortable, as I never managed to feel when in the midst of thousands of peers.
I know there have been times in my life when I could not have appreciated this environment as I do now. And who knows, perhaps I’ll be ill content again someday. But I hope I do not forget that beauty is not a quality to seek, only to see.
Sarah Jean Heart is a writer, editor, and reporter living in Boonville, New York. You can read more of her writing and view more of her photography at The Perspective Project.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication for the On Being Blog. Submit your entry and contribute a deeper understanding of the world around us.
by Barbara A. Stachowski, guest contributor
Grace Lee Boggs speaks at Hull-House in Chicago. (photo: David Schalliol)
This past summer, I drove to Chicago with Grace Boggs and Myrtle Thompson of Feedom Freedom Growers for some book-signing events and radio interviews. During the four- to five-hour drive from Detroit, Myrtle and I shared stories about raising our children. Grace didn’t say much.
But, in her speech the next day at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, she told a very responsive audience that Mom solutions are at the heart of the next American revolution. What comes naturally to Moms in raising our children, she said, is an example of what all of us can be doing in our communities to make our country a force for good in the world.
Visionary Buckminster Fuller once observed that “Geniuses are just people who had good mothers.” These geniuses are everywhere in our communities.
Moms are the ones who can grow the souls of our children. Moms are the ones who can provide them with the spiritually safe environments so that they can make the choices that help them discover their talents, passions, and values. Moms are the ones who empower them to go beyond being mere cogs in the capitalist system to become creators of what Dr. King called the beloved community. Moms are the ones who nurture emotionally intelligent global citizens. Moms are the leaders we’ve been looking for.
Vandana Shiva, the internationally acclaimed physicist/feminist/activist, recalls that at age 13 she asked her mother for a nylon dress so that she could keep up with her friends’ fashion trends. Her mother, who had supported Gandhi’s struggle against British colonialism and wore clothing of homespun cotton, replied, “If that is what you want, you can have it. But remember, your nylon frock will help a rich man buy a bigger car while the cotton dress you wear will buy a poor family at least one meal.”
“Of course, I did not get the frock,” Shiva recalls. “I kept thinking of some poor family starving because of my dress. My mother had given me the information necessary for me to make a socially just decision by thinking for myself and at the same time thinking of the global community.”
Loving our children unconditionally does not mean enabling them to act out self-serving behavior. We must commit to the consistency and constancy necessary to grow compassionate souls. We acknowledge our young people when they do well, but we are also there for their mistakes and disappointments. We are there to say, “I love you. It’s okay. Let’s try again.”
This maternal labor of love is a lifelong struggle — the kind of protracted struggle that Hegel called “the labor, patience and suffering of the negative.” Linda Wooten explains, “Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
Moms are true bodhisattvas, nurturing without watching the clock, not expecting compensation, not putting our needs before the needs of those we compassionately love into authentic existence.
Our Mom skills seem so simple. Unconditional love, compassion, patience, and listening. But having acquired these skills in raising my children, I find myself using them with the souls I encounter in my daily life and in my community organizing: with family members, neighbors, comrades, mayors, chiefs of police, refugees and victims of violence. We all want and need to be nurtured.
My Mom memories of holding my children when they were sick with fever bring home to me the fragility of our precious work.
During the drive, Myrtle recalled how fragile she felt during those early days of mothering her children. Embracing our own fragility is transformative because it reminds us of the wondrous girl-child inside ourselves that must be birthed along the way of revolution.
This maternal instinct is not restricted to biological mothers. All women (and men) who nurture are modeling sustainable activism in the 21st century.
Barbara Stachowski is a social justice consultant and member of the Board of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. She lives in Clinton Township, Michigan.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on this blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
We receive quite a few responses from people who are spurred to create or make something, to act or make a decision after listening to one of our shows. Renee Yates, a woman with multiple degrees in advertising, marketing, and theology living in Evanston, Illinois, wrote this poem “after listening to Ms. Tippett’s interview with the Dalai Lama”:
When pleasure no longer buries the pain
And worry does not pay the bills,
When depression ceases to shield the rage
And anger does not repair the rift,
When hope no longer blunts the fear
And sadness does not bring the dead back to life,
When all feelings have finally quenched
And frustration has yielded to peace,
Happiness is the last recourse.
by Emily Rapp, guest contributor
"You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any." ~from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
I woke up and held my son for a long, long time. I’d been gone for three days at the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Disorders Family Conference and had missed him terribly. Driving through Boston on the way to the airport, I told my friend Kate that it was so difficult, so impossible even, so disastrous to imagine feeling that way forever. The missing, the ache.
We agreed that, say what you will about heaven or where we go or visions of the afterlife, the truth about someone being dead is that they’re gone from this life, right now, here on earth, with you. That particular person has been removed from your particular life. That’s the gut punch and there is no balm for that, no platitude, no prayer, and, I would argue, no belief even that will fix it. My son will be dead within three years and there’s nothing I can do about it.