sabh mehi joth joth hai soe || this dhai chaanan sabh mehi chaanan hoe ||
Amongst all is the Light-You are that Light. By this Illumination, that Light is radiant within all.
As a child, I would listen to my mother recite these lines at night, drifting into sleep to the soothing sound of Sohila. These words didn’t mean much to me then, but the older I got, and the more I tried to understand and implement the Guru’s bani in my life, the more these lines became imprinted in my mind. I found them so profound—profound in a way that I was unable to reach them. I had grown up embracing the concepts of love and equality that Sikhi embodied, but at many times in my life, I could not make sense of the belief that Waheguru was in everyone. When my city, my home, was shaken to the core by the horrific tragedy of 9/11, I could not see how God was in the people who were responsible. In all the hate crimes that followed, I could not see God in the perpetrators. When I worked with survivors of domestic violence, trying to help them piece their lives back together, I was convinced that God could never be in their abusers. I put up a wall to protect them, and I used the same wall to divide those that I encountered in my life into “good” and “bad.” And then one day, I went on an interview that changed everything.
My supervisor looked at my resume and back up at me. “All the work you’ve done is with victims.” Because they were the ones who deserved it most, I thought to myself. “If you get into this clinic, you’re going to have to represent criminal defendants, people with criminal convictions. Are you ok with that?” It was a simple question. At the moment, I responded with an “of course,” but later that day, I kept thinking about whether I would be able to handle venturing out to the other side of my wall. I ended up being offered a position in the clinic, and I took it, and today, I can say that I’ve never been more grateful for an opportunity in my life.
After working with clients with criminal convictions, I’ve come to break down the wall I had built up. I’ve come to the very important realization that people are not inherently bad. Yes, sometimes people do horrible things, but that doesn’t make them horrible people. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to see that divine light in my clients, who have been defined in our society’s vision by the bad things they’ve done, rather than the progress they’ve made since; their goodness has been overshadowed by their mistakes. But at the end of the day, they are just as human as the rest of us. And being able to be the one person who they can turn to and trust with their livelihood, to be the one person who will not look upon them with disappointment, fear, or hatred, as the rest of the world does, and to be the one person that will help them – to me, this has been the most humbling experience ever.
This experience is only one of many that have reminded me of what it means to be a Sikh – to forever be learning. And so entering this new year, my resolution is to find the good in everyone around me, to learn to see Waheguru’s divine light in all of humanity, and to question myself every time I pass judgment on someone. As humans, we are all flawed; our flaws are the very essence of what makes us human, and as victims of human nature, we are all equally capable of bad judgments and mistakes. But these mistakes are not the summation of who we are as people. And we should hope that the rest of the world looks upon us the way we should look upon them – through Waheguru’s loving eyes.
Here’s to another wonderful year of learning.