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Finding Peace Amidst Tragedy:
Part I





On August 5, 2012, a gunman attacked the gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, USA, killing six sangat members and injuring several others. Bhai Punjab Singh, a 65 year-old man, was critically injured during the attack and continues to require around-the-clock, long-term care at an inpatient rehabilitation center.

The following essay was written by Holly Sennett, a speech-language pathologist, who has been working with Bhai Punjab Singh and his family since last fall. Holly shares his heartwarming story and discusses how the tragic events of that day affected not only her life but all of our lives.



Sometimes our lives are blessed in ways that we could have never imagined. Sometimes our lives cross paths with special souls who possess golden hearts and who touch our own hearts in a manner that causes us to be transformed in both subtle and profound ways. Many of us have had the honor and privilege of meeting such individuals during our lifetime.

I would like to share with you the story of a very special person.

Punjab Singh is a revered teacher. He has touched the lives of countless people throughout the world. His story is uniquely his own, however, the messages and lessons he continues to teach are timeless and encompass us all.

I am a speech-language pathologist who works in a facility that provides care for individuals recovering from a variety of medical diagnoses. The name of the facility is being kept confidential at this time to maintain Punjab Singh’s privacy during his rehabilitation process.

I was asked to collaborate with Punjab Singh’s eldest son, Raghuvinder Singh, and the rest of his family to tell you Punjab Singh’s story because he is a victim of a hate crime. His injury is severe and he is not able to voice his own story at this point.

We are pleased to report that there have been unexpected improvements and progress that doctors initially never imagined would happen. There are many signs that point to hope for continued miracles to come with the support of prayers from all of those people around the world who are moved in their hearts to earnestly pray on his behalf for healing.

On August 5, 2012, a community of peace-filled people had come together to praise the Creator of all of life in their gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This community experienced a moment of heart-shattering darkness that, while frozen in time, continues to reverberate today.

On this day in August, a stranger with a blanket of hateful, fearful thoughts covering his mind entered the gurdwara (“gur”=Lord, “dwara”=door). Six people were killed and three others were wounded. Punjab Singh miraculously survived being shot in the head.

The gurdwara is the “Lord’s Door” and, as Raghuvinder Singh explained, the Lord’s door is always open. It is a place where God is remembered and praised by members of the fifth largest religion in the world. It is a religion of 30 million beautiful souls who live their lives seeking God. They are the Sikh community. The word “Sikh” literally means seeker of truth.

They follow the teachings of Guru Nanak who more than 500 years ago taught the eternal message of God’s holy truth that we are one with the Creator and we are one with each other. It is the basis of the universal golden rule, and it is the foundation of many world religions. Sikhs do not just give voice to these sacred teachings, they also strive to live and embody these in their daily lives.

I clearly remember watching a news story on August 5, 2012, just hours after the gurdwara shooting occurred. The individual being interviewed had just witnessed a soul-shattering, horrific crime and yet had the strength and the grace to stand in front of the probing eyes of the camera and speak of forgiveness.

‘How beautiful’, I thought, that here in the midst of chaos, attack and darkness, this individual could remember to view the situation from a higher perspective. This perspective is not one often seen as an initial response by someone who has been a witness to horror.

To speak of the call to forgive is to show love and compassion and to realize that ultimately -- no matter what happens -- we are all still connected. We are all one.

Punjab Singh had traveled all over the world to share spiritual truths. He has taught about the oneness of all of life and the need to love and forgive.

He was a visiting congregational leader on this August 5 day at the Oak Creek Gurdwara. Punjab Singh is not only a beloved leader, he is now a hospital patient. He is a treasure to all who have known him and his golden heart has impacted the lives of many through his teachings. This is true whether you knew Punjab Singh before or after the shooting.

Many staff members at the hospital have had the great opportunity to hear stories about Punjab Singh’s life as told by his family and the community who loves him.

His two sons from India now live their lives in dedication to being present to the care of their father. They alternate staying with him on a nearly 24-hour basis. Punjab Singh’s wife is here from India as well. The American culture is one that is foreign to her as she does not speak the language, and she finds it difficult to understand some of the styles of interaction between people in this country.

Punjab Singh’s two daughters live in India and are sadly only able to visit occasionally. When family members are not at the hospital, they often stay with friends who were previously unbeknownst to them. These people generously opened up their home so that Punjab Singh’s family members would have a place to stay when they first arrived in the United States.

Life becomes very strenuous when violence tears apart the fabric of the family and everyone’s life is now altered including extended family members. It is important to remember that we are all part of this extended family.

Raghuvinder Singh has shared numerous stories about his father. This has helped us understand his father’s gentle nature and his deep connection to the Creator of all of life.

Punjab Singh would sometimes sit in meditation without moving an inch for up to 14 hours at a time. It is difficult for us to imagine doing something like this because we have busy, hectic lives and our minds are untrained and unfocused. Perhaps Punjab Singh was able to do this with ease because he was able to elevate his mind to a higher realm to commune with God in a place where time and space do not exist. Maybe 14 hours here on Earth seems like 20 minutes to a highly spiritually-developed individual. This is the level Punjab Singh had mastered.

While in meditation, Punjab Singh must have been in touch with an all-knowing view of the circumstances here on Earth. No matter where he was teaching in the world, he would call either of his sons by phone and tell them to go to certain homes in India. Punjab Singh would give instructions on what to take to the family in need. It might have been provisions or money. Often times, the sons were instructed to pay for school fees, school supplies and uniforms for needy families and orphans. The gift of education was a priority for Punjab Singh, and it was part of his life’s mission.

There is a pervasive sense of peace and calm when you enter Punjab Singh’s room at the hospital. There is sacred music playing continuously. It is the intoning and the chanting of the holy name for God in the Sikh religion --“Waheguru” (pronounced “Wah-hey-guru”).

The meaning of this word is quite beautiful. “Wahe”=great, wonderful; “gu”=darkness; “ru”=illumination. It means the great and wonderful Lord who comes into the darkness to bring the light of illumination into the world. The parallel of this description of the essence of God in many other world religions is obvious.

On December 4, 2012, a session with a therapeutic harpist and a massage therapist who provided Healing Touch, which is a form of energy work done over the body without actually touching, was arranged. Some members of the Oak Creek Gurdwara and other hospital staff, administrators and nursing students were present.

None of the people in attendance could have imagined the powerful and effective nature of this alternative healing session. The harpist positioned her instrument at the foot of the bed while the massage therapist stood on Punjab Singh’s left side to provide restoration, balance and loving care.

Miraculously, he began to move and track his eyes to the left side soon after this healing session. Previously, he was only able to move his eyes midline and to the right side. Punjab Singh has now shown ability to establish soul-connective eye contact in a right to left fashion when listening to stories told to him in English and then translated to him in his native Punjabi language by his sons. He can double blink his eyes in a deliberate fashion to indicate an affirmative response. When Punjab Singh is awake and alert, it is clear to all of his care-givers that he knows and he understands what is being said to him.

As the harpist played, harmonious tones filled the room as the gift of this elegant music went out like beautiful waves of healing sound. This gift was not only meant for Punjab Singh, but prayerful intentions for the healing of others in the hospital and for healing all over the world were created and visualized in the mind’s eye of the people who were present. Tears sprang to our physical eyes as well. This reflected how deeply the collective soul of those spiritually sensitive persons who had gathered was touched. Some of the comments heard were,

“I have never been in the presence of someone so holy in all of my life.”

“The love coming from his heart is so powerful that even in his condition, he is praying for us.”

These comments highlight the manner in which Punjab Singh continues to touch the lives of others. He is allowing us to learn about caring for life with the awareness of an added dimension of sacred reverence.

When the opportunity arises, I try to give voice to this concept. I have talked to various staff members about what they are learning from Punjab Singh and that they need to carry this significant understanding deep within themselves so that they can provide the same level of reverent care to others.

We should all provide reverent care to others no matter who we meet on our journey through life. It is evident that this beloved, holy man teaches us still.

Continued tomorrow ...


[Courtesy: The Sikh Coalition. Edited for]

May 30, 2013



Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 30, 2013, 7:40 PM.

In the course of our journey through life, sometimes unexpectedly we come across fellow travelers who, like a touchstone, change your life for ever. Holly Sennett ji, you have had such an experience. Go forth and keep lighting candles with the candle you have in your hand. In the apparent tragedy, Punjab Singh is probably in a higher state of meditation where the soul rises above the physical affliction, if any. Looking forward to the next installment.

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Part I"

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