Living in Gratitude by Dr. Jasvir Singh


Living in gratitude by having the spirit of optimism or rising spirit is called chardi kala: it’s the Sikh way of life.

Being in chardi kala was especially challenging during the global lockdown when our daily routines were disturbed.  I am a people person who loves to travel.  I have traveled across the globe on volunteer missions.  My normal was to hardly be home.  Home was a place for sleeping and a retreat when exhausted from work and volunteering. 

As I heard about COVID, initially I thought, “It’ll be fine, it’s like any other flu”.  But as the lockdown lingered, I struggled being home all day long.  In February of 2020, I received news my dad had cancer.  Navigating his radiation treatment during the lockdown was challenging, but he remained in chardi kala. 

During the same time, I was selected as a board member of Palatine Gurdwara and the Religious Secretary, handling all the events of one of the largest Sikh Gurdwaras in the Midwest.  It’s not just a place where congregation is held, but also a place to socialize.  We spend a good part of Sundays listening to beautiful, holy hymns being sung, listening to sermons, preparing, serving and eating langar (community meals) and mingling.  Now what?

Our board felt it was important to keep the doors of our GURDWARA open, especially in times of need.  Many people lost their jobs due to the lockdown, people were isolated, and no one knew what was safe.  Death came knocking on doors, so fear ensued for many.  We followed the CDC guidelines for gatherings and went virtual, still holding programs. The soul needed to be fed greatly during this uncertainty. 

We did what Sikhs do best, help the community.  Our focus became to mobilize healthy volunteers to help the larger community. We helped stock local pantries whose shelves were empty, cooked and delivered meals to elderly. The community did wellness checks on seniors.  Our community doctors had a phone number people can call for advice.  Word spread of the help our Gurdwara was providing that the Chicago Indian consultant referred Indians stuck here due to the travel ban.  So, we found hotels for them, provided hot meals and medications until they could fly back home, which was for nearly 2 months. 

Looking through the lens of chardi kala, I realize there are many positives with the lockdown we shouldn’t forget.  It decreased the carbon footprint, cleared the skies and animals roamed free.  It made me contemplate why I busy myself serving others but am I running away from looking within at my shortcomings?  Am I giving time to my own family?  As a society, it forced us to talk about and address inequality and health disparities. Are we really acting as children of One God taking care of one another?  I can’t speak for all, but as a Sikh, I try to live in chardi kala, no matter what challenges we face.  Faith grounds us to be compassionate to one another and be resilient. 

Dr. Jasvir Singh is Religious Secretary of the Sikh Religious Society of Chicago.