I was terrified.
I didn’t even want to leave the parking lot.
But our presentation was to start in only 10 minutes…there was no turning back.
I’ve done my share of public speaking – from pitching to executives in a board room, to addressing a packed auditorium…but this one had me a little uneasy.
We were told to “keep it short…no more than 10 minutes…they lose interest after that.” But what if they lose interest sooner? Or worse, start heckling? There was no more time to worry…it was “go time.” And as my wife and I entered the room, they all turned to look at us – fresh out of circle time…a room full of preschoolers!
Shortly after we enrolled our daughter in her new pre-school, her teachers asked if we had any holidays we’d like to share with the kids in the class. Perhaps it was just their effort to encourage cultural diversity that prompted it…or maybe it was the questions they got after I would leave the room. I once asked my daughter, “Do you explain to your friends why Daddy wears a dastaar?” She would innocently reply, “I tried…but they don’t understand Panjabi!”
We eagerly scheduled our visit around the time of Vasakhi several months ahead, but as the time neared, I got a bit nervous – what could we really explain about Sikhi in 10 minutes…especially to 3 and 4 year olds? Frankly, I’m not sure how successful I’ve been explaining things to my own children, based on the questions I get re-asked on a regular basis. At the same time, my wife and I try not to get hung up in teaching facts and figures…at this age, it’s more about creating an environment of sangat, simran, seva, and keertan…with hopes to build on that foundation in the years to come. So I can understand how difficult it might be for our daughter to articulate Sikhi to her friends, even though it such a large part of her life.
In preparing for the presentation, we debated over what to cover and what to skip – should we talk about how Guru Nanak Sahib challenged the caste system? What about the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib? The order of the Khalsa? Or our brave heroes like Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and Mai Bhago? What about concepts like simran and langar? Where do we begin…where do we end?
Ultimately, we decided to take a simple approach. After covering the three “golden rules” of Sikhi (Naam Japna, Vand Chakna, Kirit Karni), we briefly explained the uniform of a Sikh and how it reminds us to live by the three golden rules, to treat people equally, and to help those in need. We explained that rather than receiving gifts, we celebrate our holidays by doing seva (self-less service). A few weeks before, we started a shoe drive where parents were asked to drop off gently used athletic shoes, which are then used to help support families from farming communities in rural African countries (http://www.pppafrica.org/). This really resonated with the children…and their parents too, as many of them dropped off large bags of shoes. Everyone was excited to be a part of this project.
As our ten minutes were up, I wondered if we really did justice to the path of Guru Nanak…I mean, there was so much we didn’t have time to talk about…so much we missed. But at the same time, if years from now all these children remember was a Sikh family came to their school, they looked a bit different – but they were happy, compassionate, and wanted to help people in need…well, then all is not lost.
And as our children get older, perhaps these annual presentations will mature as well.
As were ready to leave, many of the kids ran over to the look at the pictures we brought of Sikh men, women, and families. Other children went to the poster of the “penthi” to try and write their name in Gurmukhi script. The teachers also approached us wanting to get more information about visiting our local Gurdwara…all in all, it seemed like a success.
But most important, was the huge smile on our daughter’s face during the entire presentation and the excitement in her eyes as all the kids joined to sing the “Goodbye” song, which today was replaced by the “Fateh” song.
It was though a load had been lifted off her shoulders…and all her friends caught a glimpse of her wonderful world of Sikhi.