August 2nd, 2015

How are you? Wonderful to see you again!” said the Sikh who was firmly grasping my hand. I had been registering for the Chardhi Kala 6K run/walk when he rushed up to me. He was an earnest man of twenty-some years whom I had met a couple months ago at a meeting about poverty at the temple. After that session, the young man had sought me out and asked to meet up with me for a talk. For whatever reason, we never did connect. I had offered to make myself available, but he couldn’t find the time.


The young man kept smiling and pumping my right hand. He glanced around, and said, “I’m so sorry that we couldn’t get together. It’s just been so busy with planning this… and other things.” He glanced around again, and said, “We will meet if God wills it.” That’s a true statement, but it could also be translated as: “Don’t hold your breath.” The young man abruptly left, and was immediately in conversation with somebody else.


I watched him for a while. He darted here and there, always finding somebody new to greet. He reminded me of a hummingbird in our backyard that flits from flower to flower on the trumpeter vine, always tasting, but never savoring. The Sikh is a good guy. He oozes sincerity and enthusiasm. To me, it seems that he lacks depth.


The Chardhi Kala is the annual event sponsored by the Sikhs to commemorate the six people murdered at the temple in August of 2012. The event’s slogan is “Serve2Unite”. The idea being to stop violence and hatred through people coming together as one. The race is intended to serve that purpose. It brings a variety of people at the same place and time for “together action”, as the Buddhists would say. Overall, it’s a good idea.


I was there by myself. I hadn’t come with any friends, so I reluctantly attempted to strike up conversations with strangers. That was interesting. I spoke with a young couple briefly. We exchanged greetings. The woman asked me if I was walking or running. I told her that I was walking, mostly because I had my right leg crushed by a forklift six years ago. The young woman noticeably stiffened and said, “Oh, that’s terrible.. well, I’m glad it it’s better.” Then she gave her partner a knowing look, and they both moved away.


I spotted two young women wearing hijabs. I went up them and said, “A salam walaikum.” One of them smiled, and replied, “Wa Alaikum asalam.” They were getting ready to run, so our conversation was necessarily short. I didn’t know if many people had bothered to make the two girls feel welcome, but I thought that somebody should.


The walk started shortly after that. I noticed a man with a buzz haircut and a military backpack. I asked him if he was in the service. He said that he was no longer on active duty (translation: he is still in the National Guard or the Reserves). We spoke briefly, but he had no real interest in talking. He eventually ended the discussion by jogging further ahead.


It struck me as odd that an event solely designed to get people to interact would have people feeling so comfortable with being isolated in a group. Individuals were alone in a mob. People interacted with others that they already knew, but I saw very little intermingling. That bothered me. When persons did make contact, the conversations tended to be superficial.


I despise small talk. I hate it when people ask, “So what do think of those Brewers?”, or “It’s a great day for the run, but the farmers really need rain, don’t you think?”. If I had my way, I would start every conversation with a stranger by asking, “So, what do you really care about?” That would probably be uncomfortable for most people, so I don’t do that. However, that is really what I want to know. I want to know what makes a person tick.


As the walk continued, I came up along a tall, young man. His name was John. I greeted him, and I asked why he had come. He said that the event “had been on his radar” for awhile, and this was the first year he had come. Then he asked me why I was there. I told him there was a personal interest. I had known one of the men that had been killed in 2012. I hadn’t known him well, but I knew his name and he knew mine. I told John that I go to pray at the Sikh Temple frequently. I like the energy there.


As we walked together, John and I talked about violence, prejudice, learning languages, and a host of other things. John talked about his work in social services. I told him about our kids. We talked about vets and the wars. Two strangers had a long conversation about things that they both cared about. It was good. At the end, we shook hands and went our separate ways. I doubt that we will meet again. It doesn’t really matter. We shared one half hour that made a difference to us both.


Our half an hour was brief, but it had depth.


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