OCTOBER 13, 2104, was neither as earthshaking as the Columbus Day storm of 1962, nor as momentous as the day after the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. But for at least a few Oregonians it was an important day.
On October 13, 2014, two individuals, Chanda Singh and Bur Singh, started their final journey to their spiritual home. They had died and were cremated at Oregon State Hospital more than 61 to 73 years earlier. But their ashes had remained unclaimed till now, and had not been disposed of according to their religious rites.
To help them to start the final journey, Panj Pyare** – five unrelated Oregonians, two Christians, one Hindu, one Muslim and one Sikh – gathered at the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) Communications Center, around the appointed time of 10 a.m. They were Mike Swaim, Paul Wilson, Pritam Rohila, Gulzar Ahmed, and Singh Sahib Viriam Khalsa.
Having been chosen to take the ashes to the Sikh Temple in Eugene, for their proper disposal, Khalsa was presented a garland of marigolds by his four companions.
Soon afterwards, Joni DeTrant, OSH Director of Health Information handed over to Khalsa, a cardboard box containing the ashes of Chanda Singh and Bur Singh. He placed the box on a specially decorated tray and covered the box with a piece of pink Silk cloth.
Then for an interfaith prayer service, Rev. Luzvimin Barela-Borst, OSH Director of Spiritual Care led the group through a series of electronically locked doors to the Spiritual Center, where the tray was placed between candles, on a high pedestal. Rose petals were strewn over the tray.
Rev. Barela-Borst started the service with a short statement sprinkled with phrases like “Death comes to all. Nobody is an exception,” and “Don’t cry for the dead, their agony is over”
Then everyone joined in singing –
“Oh my Soul, you come and you go
Through the paths of time and space…”
It was a song by Kabir, a medieval-age saint in India, who had urged people, regardless of their religion, to follow the Natural Way to oneness in God.
Islamic, Christian, Sikh and Hindu prayers followed.
The ceremony ended with a set of group chants: “Peace to all, Life to all, Love to all.”
According to Rev Barela-Borst, it was the first service of this kind held at OSH. About 25 individuals participated in it.
Participants felt “uplifted”, “moved”, and “honored.” Some “felt emotions rise up”, while some had “spontaneous tears of soothing.” One person thought “about the possibility of their spirits/souls being there and feeling that they were finally going home.”
With prayers and good wishes, Khalsa left with the ashes for Eugene, where the Sikh community there will dispose them off, in accordance with their religious rites.
*Dr. Rohila is a retired neuropsychologist and peacemaker. He can be reached at email@example.com
** A tradition started by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in 1699, of recruiting five courageous and devoted Sikh volunteers, to carry out important duties. The tradition continues till today, as five Sikhs dressed in saffron-colored clothing are recruited everywhere to discharge important religious responsibilities, such as leading an important Sikh procession.