“A little to the left, please. Great, now just a bit forwa– perfect.”
I said this from behind the camera when it hit: Wade Michael Page may have wounded the Sikh community, but he clearly failed to divide it. I was standing in the basement of Oak Creek’s Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, photographing a handful of people who weeks earlier survived the Aug. 5 shootings. Meanwhile, temple life was happening all around, much as it would on any given Sunday.
Upstairs in the kitchen, men and women were preparing the traditional community lunch. The dining hall’s rugs would soon be crowded once worship wrapped up. A few feet away, a pack of children giggled and ran around. Only my makeshift photo studio and I were out of place, though you would hardly know it by the warm smiles, handshakes and head bows that I received at regular intervals.
If the killing of six people and wounding of three others was a shock, perhaps more remarkable has been the poise of the Sikh community in the aftermath. Nearly all signs of that day’s horror were quickly scrubbed away or patched up. The pantry that hid 16 people soon resumed its normal function. The temple’s living quarters, where several were wounded or killed, became home again. The lobby, where a lone bullet hole remains in a door frame, is atwitter with cheerful conversation.
It’s with this in mind that we present a photo portfolio of a community that’s resolutely moving forward rather than retreating. Look at their faces. Look into their eyes. You’ll see pain, heartbreak and weariness. But you’ll also see resilience and, in some instances, even defiance. Family members, survivors, priests and temple leaders stared unflinchingly into the camera’s lens. Here they were – and are and will continue to be – in a sacred space where they lost their loved ones, some even back in the very basement where they hid, listening to a hellish symphony of gunfire, commotion and silence.
As days slip into weeks, which fade into months, it’s easier for the rest of us to begin forgetting that day. Not so for the people you see here. Youth leaders have created memorial wristbands and T-shirts bearing the names of the six victims along with two bold words: “Never forget.” This Sikh community definitely won’t.