'Did you see the woman cop at our front door?'
It was one of those quiet Sunday evenings last spring. I was engrossed in a copy of Guideposts magazine in our downstairs living room when my husband walked in through the garage door.
'No, I didn't.'
If our cop had rung the doorbell, I obviously had not heard it. My husband Kulbir had just pulled into our driveway only to see her Middletown police car, and another police car right behind him.
Kulbir is an engineer by profession. He had left earlier for taking photographs of sunset over Shadow Lake ' just a short walk from our home. He needed to carry his fifty pound bag of photography equipment, along with the tripod, so he had gone by car. He was oblivious to the fact that, when he parked on the side street, to walk to the lake, a lady was jogging, and another gentleman walked by. To one of these two individuals, my husband had obviously appeared 'suspicious looking', and one of them had promptly placed a cell phone call to our local police department.
You see, Kulbir is one of several thousand Sikhs living in the United States. The fact that he has been in this country since age twenty-one, is vegetarian, has lived in the United States longer than he has in India, and is a U.S. Citizen, makes no difference to people who are fearful of beards and turbans (the head wrap), as they associate these as marks of terrorists, or Islamic extremists.
Since 9/11, this was the fourth of similar incidents that happened to him. Even when he walks or drives on local streets, sometimes he faces jeers and laughter of school children in buses. He smiles back at the children, or waves his hand in a friendly gesture, and reminds me he is used to it by now.
The first time when the cop apprehended him, shortly after 9/11, he was shocked. At that time, he worked for Lucent Technologies. Each time, he presents his IDs to the police, answers their queries, and at times accepts their apologies as they explain to him that they are required to respond to each call to investigate. These last few years have changed all of us, I thought. Even though this evening Kulbir invited our police officer to our garage to share his photograph collection, humored her with his past experiences, I must confess that I felt saddened by what the recent events have done to our sense of security.
I had listened to a cassette long ago on FEAR ' an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. In any new encounter with a stranger, fear could be based on our perception of what this person could do to us. We often tend to draw to our experiences what we perceive. I thought our emotions are so unbiblical. Where is the faith in the commandment to 'Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself'? Often, we become prisoners of our own minds and succumb to barriers based on our differences. The same barriers can be a source of enrichment and enlightenment. America is one of the few countries in the world that is immensely rich in its diversity and culture. Thanks to Information Technology, we live in a global community now. I was truly impressed by the fact that our police department was able to connect the license plate on Kulbir's car to our home address in no time. Considering how much information our government is collecting on each one of us, this did not surprise me.
I often reflect on current events and contemplate that when we elevate our consciousness to the point where we consider, as Sikhs do, the Universal Brotherhood of Mankind, we will be able to live in peace. When we do not look to one another for anything, and rely on God, the infinite intelligence, to know our needs before we do, and provide for us, our relationships will take on a whole new meaning.
Fear immobilizes us'our faith lets us relax and breathe, and experience peace'His peace, that passeth all understanding. When we depend on the human scene for peace ' whether we seek satisfying relationships, or handsome returns on our investments, or success in our careers or through our children, sooner or later comes the realization that all these things are fleeting. We need to be grounded and anchored in our faith, that no matter what the life situation is at any given point, all is well with the soul. At the level of soul or being, we are whole, complete and not wanting for anything from anybody.
In addition to the above incident, I recall another one when Kulbir had gone to a library in our neighboring town of Marlboro, to finalize his photography exhibit on nature landscapes. He titled it: 'In praise of Monmouth County.' Our teenage son waited in the car in the parking lot. As it was a hot summer day, he stepped outside the car and must have wandered a few yards in the lot, looking at parked cars. He was a freshman in college, and was home for the summer, while schools were still in session. To his horror, two cops drove towards him in that parking lot, and started interrogating him. Navdeep, unlike his dad, does not wear a turban. Apparently, some kids had spotted him from the classroom windows and initiated a call to the local police station!
Now why would we want to put all this fear in our kids' minds? It all results from our own belief that if one does not share the same skin color, he is not one of us'what if he does not belong to our religion or church'that is even worse. Even though parents and adults mean well, we, as a nation we have got to be the most fearful people on this planet, considering that we spend seven times more on our defense budget than we do on education. What is there to be afraid of, anyway? The Bible teaches us that God has given us the spirit of courage and not fear. The freedom from fear includes people, life situations and circumstances. I recall a passage: 'Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.' Or how about: 'Fear not, for Thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.'
Ironically, photographers have been regarded as artists. God is the ultimate artist. I recall seeing an exhibition by a photographer who had made paintings of his photographs. They were beautiful works of art. In the human scene, if we trace the literary style of an author, or paintings by an artist, or themes portrayed by an artist, there comes a point when we can associate the work with its source. God's creativity is infinite. No two trees, people, leaves, fruits or snowflakes are alike.
I could not help feeling amused when my husband shared with me this month's issue of 'Popular Photography' magazine - July 2006 issue. Neal Mathews' story, 'The War on Photographers', is terrifying. He states that 'for too many cops and security guards, the enemy wields a camera'. He shares a real-life drama of a 60-year-old retired software designer in California, on assignment for a photography class at 4:25am, and how he was surrounded within minutes by four cops in a 'SWAT-type formation'. The victim recalled that 'they weren't casual about it. Talk about intimidation'. The author goes on to say that, like this gentleman, both amateur as well as professional photographers all over the country are being stopped and harassed with no legal basis.
Guess what? In our litigation-prone society, photographers are fighting back for violations of the First, Fourth, and 14th amendments to the Constitution, and winning in the courtrooms, thanks to the most favorite word in America: 'Sue'. Robert Myers took on the above case pro bono. According to him, 'a law that attempts to prohibit photography from places open to the general public would be unconstitutional. Teach that to sworn police officers! They should know. Is it any wonder that there is so much panic and paranoia prevalent in our society? Photographers who are photographed, interrogated, searched, fingerprinted and humiliated, fear their information could be stored in some database related to terrorism!
Nevertheless, we remain grateful for the privileges of still enjoying life. While Americans may be victims of their self-created fears, people in other countries are victims of poverty, disease, deprivation, political anarchy, or natural disasters. By no means do I, nor any God-loving person should, ignore the damage and devastation inflicted by the events of 9/11. I do believe that, no matter what happens, we are not victims. We do have a choice to respond in biblical ways. 'Forgive thy brother seventy times seven'. That brother could be in our home, or across the globe. I read one time, that the best way to win your enemy is to make him/her your friend! That is emotional intelligence. Being the most blessed nation in the world in terms of wealth, technology, freedom, resources and services, we have an obligation to the rest of the world 'our brothers and sisters. The Bible reminds us that 'to whom much is given, much is expected'. The recent events have strengthened my faith in forging loving relationships, based on mercy, compassion and love.
Here is a poem by my husband which helps us keep going:
Do you hear?
Faith conquers fear!
When troubles won't cease,
Faith bestows peace.
When the outlook is dark,
Faith sings like a lark.
When cold is the night,
Faith is sunlight.
When out of breath,
Faith conquers death.
Faith is power,
Your steel tower.
Why run helter-skelter?
Faith is your shelter!
Here is another poem from my husband's book of inspirational poetry:
One Nation On Earth
May there be a revolution
In the human evolution.
Leave evil behind.
May hatred dissolve
And love evolve.
May human sadness
Change to gladness.
May human being
Become clear seeing.
May human attitude
May goodness win
Over evil and sin.
May wars cease
And men have peace.
May men become divine,
Free from I, me and mine.
May there be a birth
Of Heaven on earth.
May a new era be unfurled,
And love rule the world.
May there be joy and mirth,
And one nation on earth.
Image above shown is a photograph of Winter Sunset, taken in Middletown, New Jersey by Kulbir Bhalla. For such creative photography he has been getting into trouble.