It was an exceptionally hot August…in between “two-a-day” football practices; I would stay inside, soaking in the cool air before spending another afternoon out on the field.
It was that same Summer when a young GurSikh medical student we recently met at a Gurmat camp stayed with us for a few days, as he was interviewing for a residency program at a nearby hospital. I rarely use the term “GurSikh”, but this young man had the appearance, discipline, and demeanor worthy of such a title.
I didn’t interact with him much, as I was just a teenager lost in my own world made up mostly of sports and hanging out with friends…but I did observe him closely. I was intrigued by the fact he was an Amritdhari, and the only handful of Amritdharis I knew were closer to my parents age. And when we would sit and recite Sodar in the evening, it was different than the way we normally did it. It was slower, with more focus. He spoke each word carefully…as though he were concentrating more on what was being said, rather than just “getting through it.”
One night, after dinner, our guest stayed back to chat with me. We talked a bit about football, and I was surprised to learn that he too played in high school. But right before I could ask him about “helmet tips”, he told me that at the time, he did not keep his kesh. I was shocked! I would never have guessed. I was now even more intrigued.
We continued to talk for hours, about his experience following the Guru’s path and the challenges he faced along the way. I asked him what inspired him to become a Singh, and he responded by explaining a line of Gurbani to me that I’ll never forget…a line I had heard thousands of times but never understood.
bhae paraapath maanukh dhaehureeaa
This human body has been given to you.
gobindh milan kee eih thaeree bareeaa
This is your chance to meet the Lord of the Universe.
He explained that we’ve been blessed with this human form. This is our opportunity – our chance to surround ourselves with the Saadh Sangat, engross ourselves in Simran, and live a disciplined and reflective life in service of Him. And with His grace, we can break this cycle of life and death and merge with the Almighty.
This conversation was a defining moment in my personal journey as a Sikh. It was the first time I had ever had a line of Gurbani explained to me. For the first time, the Shabad was not hidden beneath loud instruments and popular tunes. Gurbani was no longer just something my parents discussed with friends. Instead, there was a clear message…a message for me. And if just two lines could answer the meaning of life, something I had always pondered – I wondered…what other questions might Gurbani answer for me?
This encounter also taught me about the value of conversation. I have been in so many environments designed to create spiritual experiences – camps, retreats, Gurdwaras – but some of the most inspiring moments I’ve had…some of my most meaningful “Sikh” experiences…have been one on one conversations with other Sikhs sharing personal reflections on the Guru’s path.
Decades have passed since that August day. I still run in to that young GurSikh medical student from time to time – although now he is a successful physician, a family man, and still active in Gurmat camps serving as a role model to many more kids.
But this story isn’t really about him.
To be honest, I wonder if that conversation was ever really with him at all.
I believe Waheguru imparts His Grace through his creation and the Guru is always with us – encouraging us, challenging us, and guiding us. Perhaps that defining moment I had years ago, was actually not a conversation with a visiting medical student at all…but instead with Guru Nanak himself. It’s funny what lengths we go to for a “glimpse” of the Guru, when in fact, the power of his presence is all around us.
Such ruminations have inspired me to seek out conversations on Gurmat and Gurbani with other Sikhs, whoever they might be…elders, children, family, or acquaintances. Whether they know a lot or a little…everybody has a story.
There is so much we can learn about the Guru’s way – through books, workshops, and seminars – but to me, it pales in comparison…as to what we can learn from each other.