One of the reasons I’m most thankful for growing up on a tiny and heavily multicultural island (Trinidad & Tobago) is that my society exposed me to almost every type of ‘difference’ there was. This exposure wasn’t superficial either, my family represented 4-5 religions spanning from Hinduism to Catholicism to Jehovah’s Witnesses and I had the opportunity on numerous occasions to attend their religious ceremonies.
Diwali holds a special place for me.
When I was 8 years old I started living with my mom and was introduced to her brother, George. Uncle George did not hesitate when it came to ‘welcoming’ me into the family. He invited me to every family function, to every sleep over, he even bought us all dinner when we didn’t have enough. Something intrigued me about him though.
Every so often Uncle George would excuse himself from whatever the rest of us were doing and go to his separate room built next to the house. I wasn’t sure what was going on and I never really thought to ask. One night, after he made his exit, I quietly followed him to see exactly what was more important in those moments than spending time with us. What I saw struck me. He quietly lit incense and candles and had begun to pray. The scene was one of extreme humility and grace. I thought he didn’t know I was watching him until he said out loud “if you’re curious, come join me.”
Uncle George explained who the pictures in the room, the candles, and the altar represented. He taught me some of the key phrases in Hindi he used during prayer. He took me into his place of worship and made me a part of it. I was overcome with a great sense of appreciation. He was committed to sharing his love and understanding for his religion with me, a child relatively ignorant of any faith other than my own at the time.
After spending that time together we grew closer and every Diwali he would invite me to celebrate with his family. We would go out and buy (what felt like) thousands of diyas, gallons of oil, and yards and yards of wicks. We would go back to the house, pray, eat, and lay out the diyas in the most intricate patterns orchestrated by Uncle George and his wife Anna, and then light them. The scene was magnificent. Thousands of lights celebrating the triumph of good over evil.
We did this year after year and I loved it every time. Then Uncle George unexpectedly passed away. I was distraught. The man whom I idolized, who welcomed me into his family, who treated me like his own son was gone. His passing was my first experience with significant loss.
Soon after his death I left for the U.S. but I’ve never forgotten the time we spent together. Especially those times we prepared for, and celebrated Diwali. To me, Uncle George lived the values embodied in this important holiday. He spent a significant amount of time caring for his community, giving whatever he could, and celebrating his love of family. That truly represents the triumph of good over evil.
I miss my Uncle George and I know that with the work I’ve committed to doing, serving others, battling injustice, and loving my fellow people, he’d be proud of me. He’d be proud of helping to teach me that inside everyone there is a light that shines and that it’s up to us to help their lights shine brighter.
Diwali ki shubh kamna.