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Some people trace their past through memorable events: birthdays, graduations, taking Amrit, changing jobs. I use sounds to form a timeline: certain shabads remind me of road trips taken with family and friends; I can map nearly all my years in school through songs released during the same time. Some sounds have become Pavlovian: hearing Mil Mere Preetama Jio makes me feel like walking against a crisp wind through a quiet tree-lined neighborhood. The urge to run on a beach and build sandcastles comes on strong when I hear Paul Simon’s “If You Be My Bodyguard.”

When I hear a single solitary beep followed by a 1.5 second pause on an overhead speaker in a hospital, however, the Pavlovian reflex is entirely distressing. A woman’s voice follows the pause and usually asks for an illegally parked car to be moved or for an employee to return a page. Yet, sometimes the calm and soothing nature of the voice is all but deceiving.

I was near the end of discussing my plan for a very sick patient yesterday on rounds. “So, in terms of GI (gastrointestinal system), the differential includes Clostridium difficile colitis, ischemic bowel, or toxic megacolon. We continued fluid resuscitation and started broad-spectrum antibiotics. Surgery just came by to see the patient but is waiting for imaging studies. Mr. A finished his contrast and was rolled down to CT roughly 30 minutes ago. Pending the scan we’ll decide on a total colectomy versus medical management.” The resident flipped through his papers while the attending scribbled his note. “Very good,” the attending replied. “Anything else?”

A single solitary beep came through the overhead speaker followed by a 1.5 second pause.
[My Pavlovian connection kicked in: Stomach drops. Heart skips a beat.]
A woman’s voice followed. “Code Blue, Radiology CT.”
[Gasp.]
“Code Blue.”
[Hold onto everything in your pockets and bolt towards Radiology.]
“Radiology CT.”
[Crap, it’s Mr. A! We just sent him down there!]
“Repeat.”
[Fly down 4 flights of stairs.]
“Code”
[Keep running.]
“Blue.”
[Turn the corner and keep running.]

The room was packed with frantic nurses and technicians trying to recount what had happened. The other intern and I grabbed gowns and gloves and pushed our way through to the patient lying on the table and covered in his own bloody vomitus. Being that the man barely made the weight requirement for the CT scanner, I jumped on a stool and compressed his chest with all my might. The sounds of the room and the voice leading the code suddenly became soft and muffled. All I could hear were crunching noises of broken ribs that transmitted beneath my hands. I couldn’t help but look in his eyes while I kept count of my compressions. Strange, I thought, he’s looking back me. But how? Did he have enough blood perfusing his brain that he was still “alive?” Was he really looking back and communicating through his eyes?

“Hold compressions!” screamed the resident.

I stopped and caught my breath. We had been at it for 20 minutes and there was still no heart rhythm. His eyes rolled to the side. Perhaps I was witnessing a soul in the process of departing. Oh, Waheguru.

He was pronounced dead 2 minutes later.

Later that day, I passed by the room that was once assigned to Mr. A. It was being disinfected and prepared for another patient: a woman, Mrs. E, who had given birth 6 hours earlier but had an unsteady blood pressure and was still bleeding. My ears picked up a familiar sound in the distance. Playing on the TV in the corner was one of my favorite tunes of recent: Orba Squara’s “Sunshine.” As I listened thoughts of warm, sunny days full of love, life and cute pigs came racing in. Spirits, both inanimate and of organism, were being reborn.

In Japji of Guru Nanak there is a phrase that refers to a cosmic phenomenon that takes place when the disciple gets embedded in his soul-consciousness– nucleus of the life of the spirit, small as a mustard grain, bright as a point of fire. The disciple lives inspired of it, and is sustained by it as the mother is by the child, the artist by beauty, the opium-eater by his dose, the Majnun of his Leili. The disciple dies when this spark of life is extinguished. His lungs breathe the moral spirit of the spiritual universe, and his eyes see what those around him do not see.*

One can only utter Waheguru when learning that the baby was born at roughly the same time Mr. A. had passed away. The spirit of the limitless one breathed life into another. Mrs E. is now thriving in the same hospital room where Mr. A spent his last few moments. The same room where “Sunshine” played before she arrived.

Death, renewal, and spiritual reincarnation are inevitably linked. Just like sounds and memories, both pleasant and anxiety-inducing, both past and newly formed. Thank you, Waheguru, for your constant watch, guidance and protection and this kind reminder.

*Spirit Born People, Puran Singh

My Image Description

Taken and adapted from David Ladinsky’s I Heard God Laughing and The Subject Tonight Is Love.

Hafiz (1320-1389) is considered to be one of the greatest lyrical poets of all time. Similar to the way the Gurus sung their message, Hafiz wrote about the stages of spiritual growth in the rhythm of the ghazal making it easy for all– farmers, craftsman, scholars and princes– to learn. Much of his writing reflects themes found in Sikhi: he did not see God as separate from the world (rather wherever there is love, there is the Beloved); he described the path to love as one that began with an awakening, led to pursuit and longing, and unfolded into a new phase of learning and inner growth; and he envisioned God as an all-loving companion, guide, friend and lover.

In My Brilliant Image, Hafiz describes some of the preparations required for the inner Journey of Love. He urges us to let go of habitual negative attitudes and unnecessary attachments which only weigh us down. To make this Journey, we must be light, happy and free to go Dancing:

My Brilliant Image
One day the sun admitted,

I am just a shadow.
I wish I could show you
The Infinite Incandescence (Tej)

That has cast my brilliant image!

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,

The Astonishing Light

Of your own Being!

Hafiz seeks to broaden and deepen our understanding of “real love,” both in human relationships and in our growing obsession with the Divine. He prods us to explore Love’s possibilities and test its apparent boundaries. He says our progress in this Journey can only be measured by the intensity of our love, the living flame that illuminates all life. Begin to love now, he says, don’t wait– let there be no regrets.

I Saw You Dancing
I saw you dancing last night on the roof
Of your house all alone.

I felt your heart longing for the
Friend.

I saw you whirling
Beneath the soft bright rose
That hung from an invisible stem in
The sky,

So I began to change into my best clothes
In hopes of joining you

Even though
I live a thousand miles away

And if
You had spun like an immaculate sphere
Just two more times,

Then bowed again so sweetly to
The East,

You would have found God and me
Standing so near
And lifting you into our
Arms.

I saw you dancing last night near the roof
Of this world.

Hafiz feels your soul in mine
Calling for our
Beloved.

His ability to access the healing and loving dimensions of the divine earned Hafiz the name “The Tongue of the Invisible” by the Persians. How true that is. Like Gurbani, it’s even more beautiful and meaningful when read or sung aloud. I hope these two poems have reminded you of Waheguru and inspired us to read more: both Hafiz and the Guru Granth Sahib.

I drool (in a completely respectful way) whenever I remember that Sikhi supports scientific theory, design, and thought. I drool when I see nature’s form and function reflected in man-made objects. Stuff that I can’t quite grasp completely (i.e., string theory, genomics, fiber optics, philosophy) also makes me drool. So do nice European accents.

Perhaps this will make you drool as well:

Waheguru is not only the ultimate engineer but he is science itself! He pushes the forces of natural selection and adaptation and sprinkles a bit of random mutations to create efficient elements of nature. He then smiles (and maybe even snickers) as he watches us exert our evolutionary fitness at the expense of other living things, attempt to rationalize the universe through mathematical equations, selfishly proclaim that our equations are elegant and beautiful, and argue over whether we are damning ourselves to a so-called false belief in intelligent design.

His smile probably widens when he sees us plagued with questions of identity and self-purpose– the existential queries of “who am I, what is the meaning of my life.” He smiles when he sees us slap our hands to our foreheads in anxious frustration. He smiles when he watches us struggle with self-doubt and uncertainty. He smiles because he is the force behind each of our unique paths: the occasional bumps, the pleasant coincidences, all of it. It serves as a reminder that as long as we have faith in the Guru we will find ourselves under his protection and guidance and ultimately safe, healthy, and happy.

I don’t have to necessarily see the light at the end of the tunnel because I know it’s already there. Wow. What a concept.

I’m no longer drooling. I’m less anxious. I’m reassured by my faith. I hope you are as well.