It was wonderful to see Americans showing their pride and participating in the Fourth of July celebrations across the U.S.A. and around the world.
Every Fourth of July makes me pause to reflect on my life-journey, people that I have met, the blessings that I have enjoyed since the nightmare of the Partition of India, and the prayers that have been answered.
Thoughts and reflections of another Fourth of July this year filled my spirit with gratitude. A gratitude that is often reflected through my writings and artwork!
A Great American symbol: The Amazing Statue of Liberty: The Statue of Liberty evokes an image of welcome, freedom, and arrival into the land of unimagined dreams; where the impossible is possible and sky is the limit when hard work, imagination, and daring come together. Poets, artists, and photographers have tried to capture the promise of what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes and proclaims.
Each Fourth of July, and this year is my 48th Fourth of July in the U.S., the Statue of Liberty takes on a new meaning, not just for Americans, but for people around the world yearning to be a part of the experience that is the United States of America – a nation that offers hope, fascination, and limitless possibilities to all mankind.
The sparkling and dancing colorful patterns created by the spectacular fireworks (in Washington, D.C., New York and Boston) across the America’s spacious skies during the Fourth of July celebrations reflect the spirit and rewrite the promise that is America. I imagined the destinies of people from all corners of the earth intersecting across this blessed land and creating undreamed-of possibilities and experiences unlike any other place on this planet. Much like the dazzling fireworks, my spirit danced with joy and thanksgiving.
On this Fourth of July too, I saw America as a manifestation of hopeful dreams and prayers. It was incredible and overwhelming to witness the frontiers that humanity has crossed what Sikhs in America and around the world have imagined and created to serve humanity. Guru Nanak must have especially blessed us.
And suddenly I was reminded of this anecdote associated with Guru Nanak’s life as he travelled to deliver his divine message to the people of the world in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. This sacred parable comes from Bhai Bala’s Janamasakhi (an account of the life of Guru Nanak) and in fact has been repeatedly told in different languages. Bala was an early companion and disciple of Guru Nanak. Here’s a gist of the anecdote.
Guru Nanak was travelling to a village in the Punjab to deliver his revealed message and faith lessons. Guru Nanak was also accompanied by his life-long companion Bhai Mardana (a Muslim), often venerated as the Guru’s first Sikh disciple.
The people of this village did not know Nanak nor allowed him to enter the village to share his message of One God, love, and our shared humanity. The unfriendly people of this village said some very unwelcome and unsavory things to the Guru and asked him to leave.
Guru Nanak before leaving blessed this village and its inhabitants: “Vasde Raho!” Translation: May this village and its residents continue to prosper here forever.
Guru Nanak’s disciples were surprised at this blessing in the face of the hostile treatment accorded to Guru Nanak and his companions.
Guru Nanak moved on to next village in the area. People in this village had heard of Guru Nanak and they were eager to hear his revealed message. They welcomed Guru Nanak and showed great love and hospitality. They were thrilled with the Guru’s illuminating discourses and the enthralling daily Shabad Kirtan (sacred hymns of Praise). The people recognized Guru Nanak as an enlightened Messenger, felt very blessed and wanted him to stay with them for some time.
Before continuing his onward journey, Guru Nanak blessed this village “Ujjad Jaao!” Translation: May this village cease to exist and all its inhabitants scatter far and wide.
To Guru Nanak’s companions this blessing sounded more like a curse. They asked Nanak the mystery of his words in light of the reception and treatment they had witnessed in the two villages.
Guru Nanak smiled and explained:
The people of the first village, because of their unsavory, hostile, and inhospitable attitude best prosper where they are rather than carry their unfortunate ways elsewhere. The people of the second village who showed respect, hospitality, eagerness to learn, and generosity of spirit will carry their positive values and attitudes wherever they may travel and will transplant them wherever they set up their future home.
The disciples understood the farsighted wisdom and the prophetic blessing of their Guru.
And that’s the exceptional blessing, I fathom, at work for us Sikhs on this ‘foreign land’. I envisage that the millions amongst us may be the generations of those whom Guru Nanak blessed some five centuries earlier in a village in the Punjab: “Ujjad Jaao!” Perhaps Guru Nanak was envisioning and praying for a future that the people with daring hearts and trailblazing spirit should scatter to the ends of the earth. They will put their talents to their fullest potential and learning about people in other lands and cultures, and thus will spread and share goodwill. They will embrace and offer testimony of values that inspire, enrich, and advance humanity. With a daring pioneer spirit, excel in new frontiers, multiply their entrusted gifts, and build new dreams. Expand hope by sharing the rewards of their labors and by lessening the burdens of others placed at their crossroads.
Above all, with humility and an all-embracing spirit, celebrate the blessings that thread all Creation and all humanity as the amazing handiwork and manifestation of One Supreme God.
It is up to us to strive to fulfill that challenge and its true promise. In America, we are placed in a “providential circle of unimagined possibilities” and we can put this undreamed-of opportunity to service and awesome creativity; engage in discovering and promoting emancipating ideas.