Remarks of James L. Santelle at the Tenth Anniversary Observance of the Hate Crimes Violence at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek

“Sarbat da Bhala: Seeking the Welfare of All”

Friday, August 5, 2022

For some of us knowingly and for others quite unwittingly, we are today invoking and living one of the principal 18th Century teachings of Gobind Singh—the tenth and last human Guru of the Sikh faith.

Beyond his creation of a new order for both belief and action—he called it the “Khalsa,” the Punjabi word for “pure in service and in love”—beyond that, Gobind Singh also proclaimed the spiritual and the transcendent unity of all women and men.

His admonition to embrace and to inhabit the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity is recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Scripture of Sikhism, this way:

“As out of a single fire, millions of sparks arise—arise in separation but come together again when they fall back in the fire.

As from a heap of dust, grains of the earth sweep up and fill the air, and filling it, fall through the air back into a heap of dust.

As out of a single stream, countless waves rise up, and being water, fall back in the stream again.”

Fire, dust, air, and water.  All fitting images for what happened ten years ago and for what we do today in this place, in our lives, in our time—reminding us of and calling us ever to know, in the words of the Ardas prayer of the Sikh faith, “Sarbat da Bhala”—that is, seeking the welfare of all.

We revel in a common humanity, and the blessings of each of us are, like sparks of fire, bits of dust, gusts of air, and waves of water—these blessings are shared, together, in communion, in fellowship, in our glorious diversity and in our God-given individuality.

Satwant Kaleka, Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Suveg Singh, and Punjab Singh knew all of that.  Each of them brought animation and life to all of that, even in sacrificing their own lives to those transcendent beliefs, those known principles of our being.

Together in life and in death, they are now and will remain always the fire, the dust, the air, and the water of this Gurdwara—and of places of splendid worship for all faiths, in every part of our nation, in all lands on earth.

We wish desperately, profoundly that our six brothers and one sister were with us this day, celebrating their faith as they did throughout their lives, imbuing their recitations of the Ardas prayer, “Sarbat da Bhala,” with fervent anticipation and with the abundant possibility of what is to come.

Their voices, their prayers, were silenced in what is now among four of the most prominent, faith-related civil rights, human rights tragedies of our contemporary American experience.

And yet, to their communities, to their friends, and especially to their families—including their children and their grandchildren—I say this:

Their deaths were not in vain.  Their sacrifices have meaning.  Their departures are not void of significance.  Their martyrdoms are real.

Because they died, our nation’s local, state, and federal law enforcement officers now measure and record hate crimes with a precision that promotes safety and security and well-being for all of us.

Because they died, our places of adult and youth learning and education and growth—in nearly half of states of our Union—are now increasingly, effectively defining, describing, embracing, and telling true and complete stories of this great world religion.

Because they died, movements forward in 2022 here in Wisconsin through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction are providing the teachers of our State with the intellectual foundation and instructional materials to make that learning real.

Because they died, Oak Creek, Wisconsin is now the site of the largest public (non-Gurdwara) collection of materials on Sikh studies in our nation—accessible and alive at the Oak Creek Public Library a few blocks from our gathering tonight.

Because they died, employers and landlords and military leaders and health care providers and bankers now have greater commitments to ensuring that Sikhs and people of all faiths have access to and opportunities for achieving the dreams of lives well-lived.

Because they died, young people and older people and people in middle age of all educational, economic, familial, and societal settings know more about the meanings and the significance of the Kesh (or uncut hair), the Kangha (the wooden comb), the Kara (the iron bracelet), and the other articles of faith of our sisters and brothers—not merely tolerating those physical symbols of spirituality but affirmatively embracing them, along with the like reflections and signs of all religions—in the workplace, in schools, in travel, in venues of commerce, and places of leisure.

Because they died, the ugly voices of hate and the terrible acts of inhumanity—in Wisconsin, in every state of our Union, in every civilized country on the planet—are now rightly targeted for condemnation and pursued by responsible, enlightened people both within government and without, until the words and deeds of disaffection and separation, of hatred and anger, are vanquished and relegated to the dung heaps of human history.

Because they died, we are gathered here together in community and in places like this across the globe to remember and to mourn them—but also to recommission in 2022, a decade later, our own professional and personal lives in the ways and the trappings of understanding, fellowship, joinder, affiliation, and communion with blessings—“Sarbat da Bhala,” on us all.

Because they died, I am a better person.  I know more.  I understand more.  I care more.  I feel more, and I understand more completely what it means to be a part of the lives of other men and women.  I share more.  I reach out more.

And a world of friends, colleagues, partners, and sisters and brothers I did not know and in whose company I did not share eleven years ago today—that world is now open and new and resurrected and alive for me. 

I suspect—I know—that I am not alone in that transformative experience.  You have experienced and reveled in it, too.  All because they died.

Gobind Singh was right: The fire, the dust, the air, and the water, lifted up and brought together again this day and always by Satwant, Prakash, Sita, Ranjit, Suveg, Punjab, and Paramjit—those elements of earth are binding and eternal. 

We honor and we celebrate them all together now and in the restful, pensive, quiet of our hearts and minds each day of our lives.

True to that commission, one of the great poets in English literature, Alfred Lord Tennyson, took a page from the psalms of Gobind Singh and the other Gurus of the Sikh faith to record this:

Though much is taken, much abides.
And though we are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth, that which we are—we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

If you would like to observe the vigil in its entirety, you can do so here.

If you would like to hear Jim speak, you can do so here.