December 6, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2016

It was the first time that Araceli had visited a Gurudwara. She had been invited by one of her colleagues from work, and had agreed to come with her 1-year old son, Matias. She had wanted to visit a Gurudwara for years, ever since having read about the Sikhs and their traditions. But until now, she had never had the opportunity. She had always been interested in the way the Sikhs lived, the philosophy of simple living and egalitarian principles, and the concept of universal brotherhood of man. These ideas appealed to her, and she was curious to learn more. So when Kiran had joined her team where she worked as a medical biller, she had been eager to speak with her and learn more about Sikhs. Kiran was happy to answer her questions and tell her about her faith and lifestyle. They would have lunch together and Araceli would ask questions about things she was curious about. One day, Kiran suggested that Araceli come visit the local Gurudwara. It would be a great learning experience, she said, and she could also see first-hand how things were done. Araceli enthusiastically agreed.

Araceli sat next to Kiran, while Matias was curled up in her lap. The large darbar was full of sangat, and more people kept coming. Araceli was amazed at how many people were there, the large hall was already almost full. The men sat on one side of the room, and the women on the other side. She looked around in amazement at all the colors and styles of dress that both the men and women were wearing. The embroidered Indian dresses, the long flowing styles, the bright and vibrant colors. And the ragi’s (musicians) on the stage, performing soulful renditions of the shabads. The sight of the Guru Granth Sahib on the main dais, covered in colorful and sparkling rumalla’s, and the man with the long, flowing white beard and round blue turban, sitting behind the Guru Granth Sahib and reverently waving the chaur sahib over it. It was a feast for the senses, and Araceli took it all in.

Hanging from the ceiling in both the front corners of the room were two large projector screens. Both displayed the same thing, which was the shabad that the ragi’s were singing. It displayed the text in the original Gurmukhi, and beneath it, the English translation. Araceli was glad and appreciative for this, and felt grateful that she could read the meaning in English. The words were captivating. As she read them, she felt that the writer must have had a deep yearning and longing for the Divine. As she paid attention to the words, she also began to feel a similar sense of longing start to arise in her heart. It was a familiar feeling, but like a distant memory from childhood, akin to remembering your mothers warm embrace when you were a small child. It felt comforting and peaceful.

Occasionally, she would ask Kiran a question about something, and Kiran would explain. When she looked around, she saw smiles on people’s faces, or eyes closed in meditation. Whatever it was, she was feeling it too, as waves of emotion washed over her. She closed her eyes and took some deep breaths. It had been just over seven months since her husband had abandoned her and Matias. It had been a traumatic experience when he had left suddenly, vowing never to return. She had begged him, for the sake of his son Matias, to have the courage to stay and try to work out whatever problems he had, to be a father and husband. She had vowed to stand by him and help him through whatever they had to face. But he was distraught, frightened, and angry. He didn’t listen to her. He blamed her instead, for his unemployment problem, for his problems with substance abuse, and for taking away his freedom. He left her amidst her tears and anguish. In a way, her worst nightmare had come true. She was left alone, with an infant, and no way to support herself or provide for her baby.

But she was resourceful. After a day of crying and panic, she had pulled herself together and started looking for work. After the first few awkward interviews, she gained confidence and learned how to conduct herself, and soon she had a job offer. She found a reliable daycare provider for Matias and began her job.

She was still sensitive about being abandoned. She would sometimes be fearful that she would be left all alone in the world. Holding Matias in her arms at night while he slept, she would break down in tears thinking about him growing up and moving away, leaving her all alone. It was a frightening thought.

But here, in the Gurudwara, they were singing about the Creator who would never leave her. He would never get old, and never die. He would always be present, and would always love her. Something about that sentiment touched her deeply, and she couldn’t control herself as tears of relief began streaming down her face.

Eventually, the ragi’s completed their performance, sang one last shabad to signal the conclusion of the program, and then everyone stood up for the prayer of supplication, the Ardas. Araceli turned to Kiran again, who explained that this was when she could ask the Creator for anything she wanted.

Araceli mused about what she might ask for from God Himself.

“Will He grant me what I ask, even though I am not a Sikh?” she whispered to Kiran.

Kiran smiled. “Of course!” she replied, “He gives to all.”

Araceli closed her eyes and pressed the palms of her hands together. She had heard the ragi’s singing a shabad earlier which was a blessing to a child. She expressed the same emotion for Matias, who was seated comfortably at her feet, playing with a toy.

“This is a prayer for my son, Matias,” she thought, “May he grow up to have a happy and fruitful life. Please protect him from all the pain and hurt in the world, please bless him with peace and joy and love. Please keep him safe from harm. One day he will leave me and live with his spouse, I pray that she will love him dearly and stay with him and not leave him throughout his days.”

Everyone had langar afterward, the free meal from the open kitchen. Araceli thought the food was delicious, and Matias seemed to agree, as he finished everything she put on his plate.

Before she left, Kiran asked her how she felt about her visit.

“It was amazing,” she replied, smiling broadly, “I don’t think I’ve felt this happy and peaceful in years. I feel so light and free.”

“You take blessings back with you,” said Kiran, “for your efforts in choosing to come and spend time here and listen to the Guru’s teachings. Nobody goes away empty-handed from the Guru.”

Araceli got back to her small apartment in the late afternoon. Matias had fallen asleep in his car-seat. She gently lifted him up and climbed up the stairs to her second floor apartment. After putting him in his crib, she also fell asleep, exhausted.

When she woke, the sun was setting, the last rays of orange sunshine beaming lazily through the blinds and into the bedroom. She sat up for a few moments, and then went into the kitchen to prepare milk for Matias.

He was not cranky when he woke. He happily accepted the milk bottle and was content to drink and play with his toys. Araceli carefully adjusted the baby gate in the doorway from the bedroom to the living room, and then got ready to go back into the kitchen to begin preparing dinner. From where she usually stood in the kitchen, she could keep an eye on Matias while she cooked. It was only when she had to turn and work on the stove that her back was turned.

Once Matias was seated on the carpet, Araceli scattered several toys and books on the floor to keep him occupied, gave him a kiss, and then went into the kitchen to work on dinner. This had become their daily ritual for months. Matias had cried at first, but was used to it now. He knew that she had to spend time cooking, and he let her do it without much complaint. He occupied himself with all the toys and books that were laid out in front of him. And he knew that when she came back to play with him, there would be food to be had as well. So it seemed like a reasonable trade-off.

The light outside began to fade as dusk fell, and the shadows slowly started creeping across the sky. The blinds and windows were open, and fresh cool air blew in a gentle breeze through the apartment. The sliding glass door to the balcony was also open. Matias had never gone onto the balcony. And the screen door was closed. But today, it caught his attention. He sat and stared at it for a full minute before crawling over to it and attempting to push it. It didn’t move. He looked back at his mother. She was doing something on the stove and couldn’t see him. He turned back to the screen door, and tried again. This time, he realized that it didn’t move back and forth, but side to side. So he applied pressure in that direction. And it slid open.

Delighted at his success, he crawled out onto the balcony, oblivious to the danger he was in. The balcony had two chairs and a table, and potted plants, along with some other decorative pieces. Matias managed to climb onto one of the chairs, and this afforded him a view unobstructed by the black metal railings. He smiled as he felt the sensation of the evening wind in his face, gently blowing and seemingly enveloping him in it’s cool embrace.

He peered over the top of the railing, curious what was beyond it. A small potted plant in a rectangular box was sitting atop the railing, securely attached. On the small table next to the chair was a toy telephone, complete with the receiver and the wire. Matias was distracted by it and grabbed hold on to it, while still teetering on the chair.

Downstairs, a newly married young couple, Marty and Jenn, were moving out of their ground-floor apartment. They had just purchased a new house and were excited about moving in. Marty had rented a U-Haul truck with enough space to fit all their luggage, personal belongings and furniture. They had spent the last three hours loading up the truck and were were almost done with all the furniture. There were just a few pieces left to move. They were tired and glad that the day was almost over. Jenn walked back into the apartment bedroom and saw Marty standing there and surveying the remaining furniture.

“What’s left, Marty?” she asked, out of breath.

“There’s the bed frame, or the mattress. Those are the two biggest things left. Which should we take next?”

Jenn leaned against the wall as she caught her breath. “Let’s do the frame,” she suggested. And then, as an afterthought, “Maybe the mattress first, the frame can go in last, we can slide it in under the other stuff.”

“Mattress it is,” Marty leaned down and pushed the thick Queen size mattress up on it’s side.

“Ok Jenn,” he said, holding it up with both hands, “here we go.”

Jenn caught hold of one end of the mattress, while Marty grabbed the other end. They lifted it a few inches off the ground and shuffled out of the apartment. It was dusk when they walked out of the apartment carrying the mattress. The U-Haul truck was parked a few feet away, the rear door open and the ramp sliding out to the road.

They had taken a few steps towards the truck when Jenn looked up. She didn’t know why, but she just felt an inexplicable intuition, a sudden inkling, and she glanced towards the upstairs balcony. That’s when she saw the child hanging off the balcony, his small legs dangling in mid-air, clutching the plastic red receiver of a toy telephone, it’s wire taut and his hands starting to slip.

Jenn gasped and cried out to Marty. He looked up and then back at her, alarmed.

“What do we do?” she cried, panicked and confused.

“Here!” Marty turned the mattress flat, and they both ran towards the balcony, their hearts pounding. They positioned themselves directly underneath it, looking up and trying to make sure the mattress would catch the little boy.

Seconds later, he fell.

The plush mattress cushioned his fall, and he landed, unharmed. He sat up with wide eyes, confused about his whereabouts and how he had gotten there.

Marty and Jenn felt waves of relief wash over them as the sudden panic and stress melted away.

From above, Araceli screamed. She had rushed out to the balcony seconds ago, and now was looking down at Matias on the mattress with Marty and Jenn. They waved at her, “He’s ok,” they reassured her. Araceli rushed down the stairs and came running to scoop Matias up in her arms, weeping and sobbing, completely overwhelmed with emotion. And then she profusely thanked Marty and Jenn a million times, over and over again, for saving her son.

Marty shrugged. “It was Jenn who saw him,” he said, “and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

“You are blessed,” said Jenn, “and your son is blessed.”

Araceli nodded in agreement, as she recalled the prayer that she had said earlier in the day for Matias. It felt like her prayer had been heard, after all.