A LITANY OF NAMES:

A POEM TO HONOR

THE MEMORY

OF THE SIKH TEMPLE SHOOTINGS

8 | 8 |16

by Dominic Inouye

On August 5, 2012, a gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and killed six people.

 

on Saturday, August 6, 2016, six kilometers for each of the six victims.  The Chardhi Kala run also commemorates other victims of mass shootings, particularly I ran in the 4th Annual Chardhi Kala 6K the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed 49.the December 4, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that killed 26 and the more recent June 12, 2016, shooting at 

 

After the race, I sat down with some of the nephews and nieces of Satwant Kaleka, who died in the gurdwara.  Manveer Nagra, Kirat Kaur, and others are students at The Prairie School, where I taught for seven years.

 

relentless optimism (They talked to me about the Sikh faith's chardhi kala) and

its dedication to selfless service (seva), hard, honest work (kirat karo), sharing with those in need (wand ke chhako), and remembrance of God (naam jappo).

 

We also talked a lot about the power of names.  Here is a poem I wrote based on my own (now lapsed) upbringing as a Catholic, my Sikh students' faith, and the social and spiritual significance of names in so many different cultures.  I hope for it to be an appropriate and powerful prayer of relentless optimism as we reflect (too often lately) on the past and look toward a more peaceful future.

 I never appreciated the power of litany when I was young.

 

To me, the drone of saints,

foreign names, rose like incense

to the church ceiling that blocked our prayer.

We remained unheard, the names that escaped from our lips

a cacophonous billow of smoke collecting up there for nothing.

 

St. Michael pray for us.

St. Gabriel pray for us.

St. Raphael pray for us.

St. John the Baptist pray for us.

St. Joseph pray for us.

St. Francis pray for us.

St. Mary Magdalene pray for us.

St. Clare pray for us.

St. Sebastian pray for us.

 

And so on.

There were so many of them,

my tender knees shook under the weight of supplication.

 

I did not know how most of them died,

Except for

 

St. Peter on a cross,

St. Joan of Arc at the stake,

St. Thomas More with an axe,

St. Stephen with stones,

St. Sebastian with arrows, and

St. Elijah in a chariot of fire (though I was told he never actually died).

 

I rarely cringed, however, at the cruelty and creativity of death

because the stained glass windows and icons and holy cards

showed me how ecstatic and peaceful martyrdom is.

 

Three decades later, I have read too many litanies

and know too well how most of them died.

They were saints and sinners like all of us,

But their bodies, not ours, filled with bullets

that no one wants to see stained into glass.

Instead, families in Oak Creek and Newtown and Orlando

mined their phones and computers and albums

for photos of them before the simple and generic violence

of a pistol or rifle or 9mm silenced their ecstasy and peace.

 

From each tragedy also emerged a new iconography

of letters formed into names formed into litanies:

“Say Their Names” is the new mantra for our century.

The litany of saints I once thought never reached heaven

still might not--I don’t know.  

The litanies we repeat today may fall on deaf ears.

But the reverberation of syllables on our lips,

like the cosmic vibration of A-U-M that carries the holy person

from waking to dreaming to deep sleep and back to waking,

could carry our collective consciousness

from the despair of “yet another mass shooting”

to a dream and a waking up to something

powerful and new and alive.

 

How many times in a year do we write our names?

 

We type them on forms,

write them in books,

sign our bills,

doodle our signatures in meetings.

 

After a while, it becomes easy to auto-fill our name

and in the process it becomes easy to not pay attention  

to the origin story of our first name, the legacy of our surname.

 

Did your parents consult a list of baby names?

Are you Fred IV, your great grandfather Fred Sr.?

Did the papaji flip to a page in the Guru Granth Sahib and choose the first letter of your name?

 

Were you named Manveer so you would grow up with “strong mind and heart,”

Kirat so you’d be “hardworking,”

Chaman because you reminded them of “the garden of the world,”

Ashleen because you were a “joyful” infant,

Ompreet to instill in you the “peace and calm” of “God’s name”?

 

Were you named after a television star like my sister?

Did your father name you one thing, then your mother change it on your birth certificate?

Were you born without a name, your parents studying your face at home to decide whether you were “Benjamin” or a “Joel”?

 

Did your family change its name to Singh or Kaur to respect the egalitarianism of your faith that says that all are lions and all are princesses?

 

Whether we shorten our names

 

Dominic to Dom,

Richard to Dick,

Margaret to Peggy.

 

Or use pet names

 

“Honey,”

“Pooh Bear,”

“Button.”

 

Or use kin names

 

Uncle Smart or Auntie Em,

bhuaji, masaji,

thayaji, chachaji.

 

Whether you choose a Confirmation name

(mine was Raphael, an Archangel)

or have to know your Hebrew name

to receive an aliyah at your bar mitzvah,

 

Whether you change your name from Estevez to Sheen for Hollywood’s sake

Or endure the lashes that erupt post-9/11 from a name like Barack Hussein Obama.

 

Whether on Ellis Island your ancestor changed

 

her name from Sapusnick to Shaw,

his name from Laskowsky to Lake, or

the three-hundred-year-old family name from Katchka to Kalin to avoid mispronunciations or to just fit in more easily.

 

Or  whether your high school friends, like mine, legally changed their names from

 

Guoyan to Mitch,

Du Phat to Sam.

 

T.S. Eliot would tell us we really have three names--

 

The name our parents gave us,

an exotic name shared by no other cat,

and an “ineffable effable / Effanineffable / Deep and inscrutable singular Name”

that transcends our breath.

 

If you have ever corrected someone’s pronunciation of your name,

 

you know that it reverberated discordantly from their tongues

and something in you screamed “My name is important!”

“Say it correctly!”

“I am ineffable!”

 

The Old Welsh language called it anu,

 

The Old Irish ainm,

Russian imya,

Old Church Slavonic ime,

Latin nomen,

Sanskrit nama,

Greek onoma,

Old Norse nafn,

Dutch naam,

German Name,

Old Saxon namo,

Old English nama.

 

Each variation on a theme carried with it a sense of “reputation.”

Our ainm/nama/naam is our reputation, how we project ourselves into the world

and how others receive and perceive us.

 

So let us now praise the names of those we lost

in the Oak Creek gurdwara.

 

Let us project their names back into the world

to remind us how we should receive and perceive each other:

as alive, as equals, as a single caste of humanity.**

 

Say their names . . .

 

Ranjit Singh may your soul merge back into God.

Prakash Singh may your soul merge back into God.

Paramjit Kaur may your soul merge back into God.

Satwant Kaleka may your soul merge back into God.

Sita Singh may your soul merge back into God.

Suveg Khattra may your soul merge back into God.

 

Let us also name the gunman at the gurdwara and forgive him . . .

 

Wade Michael Page may your soul reincarnate more purely.

 

Let us now praise the names of those we lost

at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

 

Let us project their names back into the world

to remind us how we should receive and perceive each other:

as one breath, all made of the same clay, the light within all the same.***

 

Say their names

 

Charlotte Bacon may your soul never stop teaching us.

Daniel Barden may your soul never stop teaching us.

Rachel Davino may your soul never stop teaching us.

Olivia Engel may your soul never stop teaching us.

Josephine Gay may your soul never stop teaching us.

Ana M. Marquez-Greene may your soul never stop teaching us.

Dylan Hockley may your soul never stop teaching us.

Madeleine F. Hsu may your soul never stop teaching us.

Dawn Hocksprung may your soul never stop teaching us.

Catherine V. Hubbard may your soul never stop teaching us.

Chase Kowalski may your soul never stop teaching us.

Jesse Lewis may your soul never stop teaching us.

James Mattioli may your soul never stop teaching us.

Grace McDonnell may your soul never stop teaching us.

Anne Marie Murphy may your soul never stop teaching us.

Emilie Parker may your soul never stop teaching us.

Jack Pinto may your soul never stop teaching us.

Noah Pozner may your soul never stop teaching us.

Caroline Previdi may your soul never stop teaching us.

Jessica Rekos may your soul never stop teaching us.

Aveille Richman may your soul never stop teaching us.

Lauren Russeau may your soul never stop teaching us.

Mary Sherlach may your soul never stop teaching us.

Victoria Soto may your soul never stop teaching us.

Benjamin Wheeler may your soul never stop teaching us.

Allison N. Wyatt may your soul never stop teaching us.

 

Let us also name the gunman at the school and forgive him . . .

 

Adam Lanza may your soul learn to love.

 

Finally, let us praise the names of those we lost

in the Orlando Pulse nightclub.

 

Let us project their names back into the world

to remind us how we should receive and perceive each other:

as sons and daughters of Waheguru, whose name eliminates spiritual darkness.

 

Say their names . . .

 

Stanley Almodovar III may your soul keep dancing.

Amanda Alvear may your soul keep dancing.

Oscar A Aracena-Montero may your soul keep dancing.

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala may your soul keep dancing.

Antonio Davon Brown may your soul keep dancing.

Darryl Roman Burt II may your soul keep dancing.

Angel L. Candelario-Padro may your soul keep dancing.

Juan Chevez-Martinez may your soul keep dancing.

Luis Daniel Conde may your soul keep dancing.

Cory James Connell may your soul keep dancing.

Tevin Eugene Crosby may your soul keep dancing.

Deonka Deidra Drayton may your soul keep dancing.

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez may your soul keep dancing.

Leroy Valentin Fernandez may your soul keep dancing.

Mercedez Marisol Flores may your soul keep dancing.

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz may your soul keep dancing.

Juan Ramon Guerrero may your soul keep dancing.

Paul Terrell Henry may your soul keep dancing.

Frank Hernandez may your soul keep dancing.

Miguel Angel Honorato may your soul keep dancing.

Javier Jorge-Reyes may your soul keep dancing.

Jason Benjamin Josaphat may your soul keep dancing.

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice may your soul keep dancing.

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla may your soul keep dancing.

Christopher Andrew Leinonen may your soul keep dancing.

Alejandro Barrios Martinez may your soul keep dancing.

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool may your soul keep dancing.

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez may your soul keep dancing.

Kimberly Morris may your soul keep dancing.

Akyra Monet Murray may your soul keep dancing.

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo may your soul keep dancing.

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez may your soul keep dancing.

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera may your soul keep dancing.

Joel Rayon Paniagua may your soul keep dancing.

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez may your soul keep dancing.

Enrique L. Rios, Jr. may your soul keep dancing.

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez may your soul keep dancing.

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado may your soul keep dancing.

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz may your soul keep dancing.

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan may your soul keep dancing.

Edward Sotomayor Jr. may your soul keep dancing.

Shane Evan Tomlinson may your soul keep dancing.

Martin Benitez Torres may your soul keep dancing.

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega may your soul keep dancing.

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez may your soul keep dancing.

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez may your soul keep dancing.

Luis S. Vielma may your soul keep dancing.

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon may your soul keep dancing.

Jerald Arthur Wright may your soul keep dancing.

 

Let us also name the gunman at the nightclub and forgive him . . .

 

Omar Mateen may your soul learn to dance and love.

 

What language did Adam speak when he named

 

the giraffe,

the whale,

the wombat,

the snake?  

 

He must have spoken the divine language of YHWH or Ha Shem,****

a language of being and becoming that would have been natural for him.

He would have had to leave that language behind when he and Eve left the garden,

forgiven but forever changed,

ever having to rediscover what it is to be and how to become,

how to name their children with divine language

 

and, even more difficult,

how to remember their names

after they had died.

 

 

 

 * From T.S. Eliot's "The Naming of Cats," from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939).

** Guru Nanak says in Japji Sahib, “Accept all humans as your equals, and let them be your only sect.”  And Guru Gobin Singh said, “Recognize all of mankind as a single caste of humanity.” 

*** Sri Guru Granth Sahib says, “There is only one breath; all are made of the same clay; the light sithin all is the same.”

**** In Judaism, the tetragrammaton (four letters) of YHWH means “to be, to exist, to cause to become, to come to pass,” and is so powerful that one writes and says YHWH or G-d or Adonai or Ha Shem, which means “The Name.”