Tragedy can strike at any moment.
Even in the most sacred times – while you’re at the temple praying, in the midst of a divine moment. This can happen in the most sacred of places and the most public of places.
Which is exactly what happened in Wisconsin last week at the Oak Creek Sikh Gurdwara (temple). 6 people died tragically, left their families and loved ones behind and are being eulogized in funerals this week.
The tragedy, like the shootings in Colorado earlier this year, are profoundly sad, appear to be senseless and affects each one of us, no matter where we live and what religion we practice.
This is not a Sikh tragedy but a human one.
While I’m not Sikh by religion, I share a country of origin, India, where Sikhs hail from. I’ve found the people who practice the Sikh faith to be extremely devoted to their religion, peaceful, loving and kind.
Sikhs have gotten a bad rap, in America, because they wear turbans and have beards; characteristics of Osama bin Laden.
Why turbans? Not only is it one of the tenets of their religion, but as the Huffington post columnist recently pointed out, Sikh gurus instructed Sikhs to wear turbans to rebel against India’s caste system and to represent equality between poor and rich. The turban was encouraged to be worn by all classes of Sikhs to represent equality in God’s eyes.
It’s unknown why the lone gunman in Wisconsin unleashed this horrific act of violence against this devoted and peaceful community. But the tragedy has once again confronted us as a community, as a society and as individuals.
How do we personally deal with pain and suffering when tragedy strikes?
Here are 5 ways:
1) Reflect. When tragedy strikes, it’s easy to jump to conclusions, feed off stereotypes and hatred and take action we may regret later.
Instead, after a tragedy strikes, reflect. Reflect upon what happened, reflect upon your feelings and how the tragedy impacted you. Try to understand why you’re feeling the way you are.
Observe anger, the sadness and the other emotions the tragedy causes within you.
2) Gather and reach out. When tragedy struck in Wisconsin, Sikhs around the United States had vigils in many gurdwaras around the country. This was a time for communities to gather and meet each; to comfort each other and try to collectively understand what happened.
While you may want to reflect on the tragedy yourself, you may find it helpful to be with others and reflect as a group. You may feel like you’re less alone and feel a stronger support network. By reaching out to others, you’ll be help others more seriously affected by the tragedy to move forward.
Here are a couple photos of the the beautiful candlelight vigil and prayer I attended in San Jose, California where the community gathered and mourned together:
3) Learn and understand. Tragedies present you with an opportunity for better learning and understanding.
Ask yourself what the tragedy means to you and your community?
Did the tragedy happen because of stereotypes, hatred, ignorance or some other reason?
What caused the tragedy and what can be done to avoid similar happenings in the future? Is it time to improve the cultural dialogue? Time to reach out and get to know our neighbors? Time to deal with mental health issues?
Learning and understanding from a tragedy is not only a healing process but can help make you and those affected even stronger than before and help your community avoid it in the future.
4) Help and give. When others are going through man-made or natural tragedies, we might want to sit home and mourn. It’s easier to watch television and empathize with the affected people than to actually do something.
Instead, see what you can do to help those impacted by the tragedy.
Ask yourself what you can do to help. Although tragedies seem to happen far away from us, they are not that far away. It probably happened in a community similar to yours with the same types of neighbors, same types of issues and similar people.
What can you do to help others and give back? Can it be as simple as making a donation? Is it putting together a care package? Is it writing notes of support and reaching out to the victims?
Is it championing an issue or cause that the tragedy raised?
Doing something, anything, in the face of tragedy, is also a healing activity that can help you move on. Helping others by rebuilding a community or giving back allows you to take something sad and hopeless and make it positive, as Sikh community leader, Valerie Kaur, noted about the emerging generation of Sikh Americans in her recent Washingtong Post article.
5) Take time to heal. We don’t heal overnight. Healing takes time. Reflect, learn, understand and take time to heal when tragedy strikes – especially when it’s close to you or your community.
Don’t continuously reflect upon the tragedy and take a break from it if you’re able to. Try living as normally as possible, do things you love, meet up with friends and try to partake in your regular daily activities.
Also, let’s not kid ourselves, tragedies can have psychological and emotional impact. Some events can trigger emotional or psychological wounds especially if you’ve experienced something similar before.
If you need the help of a counselor or psychologist; seek it. Just talking to someone else about what happened may help you come to terms with the incident and help you move on.
What do you do when tragedy strikes? How have you dealt with tragedy in the past? How can we heal, reflect and move on with our lives? Please share in the comments below.