Looking back now on that June 12th day in 2010 when mourners celebrated the life of Trudy Riffert at the Paoli United Methodist Church in Paoli, Pennsylvania, I see how the sunshine was the first burst of Magic. The second burst resounded when the presiding African-American Baptist Minister read aloud a poem "Mother," crafted by his long-ago graduate school Sikh friend. That day, side by side, yet magically together, white, black, brown, yellow threads of humanity wove a tapestry I can only call "Life."
Trudy was the beloved mother and mother-in-law of Maudy and Eugene Hedlund, of Paoli. The Minister, Dr. Bernard Keels, had traveled from his parish at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. I'm proud to share: I was the Sikh poet.
The three of us had met long before, in September, 1969, at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where Dr. Keels was studying. (We lovingly called him Skip.) I was a newly-arrived graduate student from India and Maudy was the administrative assistant to the Foreign Student Advisor. We parted company and said our goodbyes in 1972, Skip off to the Yale School of Divinity and I off to Boston University. We lost touch, as friends unintentionally sometimes do, until recently.
My mother, a tall, frail Sikh woman, always wore her Sikh religion's five symbols, including a metal bracelet (kada) and a sword (kirpan). She was a kind-hearted woman who would be hurt if she unknowingly crushed an ant with her foot but who, without a doubt, would use her sword were she to witness a heinous crime being committed on a hapless victim. While sick and undergoing an x-ray examination in India, the nurses asked her to give up her sword. She refused!
I'd forgotten, until that June Day in that Paoli church, that I'd gifted Skip with a similar metal bracelet, a symbol of the Sikh Faith of Brotherhood. Skip shared how the bracelet circled his wrist for 40 years, reminding him of our friendship and its bonds, how we are never alone. While in the hospital undergoing medical tests, his doctor had requested he remove the bracelet. He refused!
The colors of the rainbow are many.
Harbans Kaur, an older Sikh woman in India.
Dr. Bernard Keels, a black preacher from the U.S.
Trudy Riffert, Dutch woman by birth.
That metal bracelet reflects them all, while circling our wrists, circling our friends, circling the Earth.