Angels Unawares: Strangers Who Changed My Life: A Devout Sikh

A Davout Sikh

By Ron Chaplin

The time: It was the mid-1970's, in the wee small hours of a Saturday night/Sunday morning..

The place: Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, as I was walking home, alone, after an evening with friends at a house party. The street was all but deserted, with only a few cars and pedestrians visible.

Suddenly, a shout which I had learned to dread pierced the calm of the night. "FAGGOT!" I glanced over my shoulder to see a half- dozen young men advancing upon me rapidly.

My adrenalin started pumping immediately. I quickly assessed my options. I had to reach a safe place, and quickly. There were no late-night shops in sight. Although I was barely six short blocks from home, I realized I could not likely outrun the pack of young men.

Hoping against hope, I turned, facing the group, and saw a taxicab approaching. I stood and raised my arm to flag the cab, praying the driver would stop.

To my alarm, as the cab approached, it seemed to accelerate. I thought I was a goner. Then, the cab moved to the curb, and I saw the driver reach across to open the passenger door, motioning to me to jump in.

As soon as I did so, the cab driver hit the accelerator hard, just as the young men were lunging at the still open passenger door.

My heart pounding wildly in my chest, the cab driver and I exchanged no words. But as I glanced in his direction, I was surprised to see that he wore the turban and neatly coiffed, uncut beard of a devout Sikh.

As we pulled up before the door of my apartment building, I noticed for the first time that the cab's meter was not running. I reached into my billfold, and pulled out all my cash, about $30, to hand it to the driver.

"No," he said in his gentle Punjabi accent. "I cannot accept your money. You were in danger. It was my duty to assist you."

"Then, please," I responded, "accept this money as a gift to your favourite charity or your temple." With these words, he demurred, and accepted the cash offered.

I sat up late that night, alone in my apartment, in wonder at what I had just experienced. I was humbled by the heroism of the turbaned cab driver. At that time in Toronto, Sikhs, as the most visible members of the most recent group of immigrants, were often the targets of random acts of violence. Had those young men managed to reach the taxicab before we sped away, that cab driver would also have been in mortal danger.

And I could not help but reach for my Bible to read again Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, as recounted in St. Luke's version of the Gospel. This Sikh cab driver was, in a very real and tangible way, my own good "Samaritan". He was a member of an oft- despised minority, of different ethnicity and a different faith. And yet he acted with Christ-like compassion.

I do not know the cab driver's name, but he taught me, in the most visceral way imaginable, to cast aside prejudice and fear, to make no assumptions about people based on skin colour, ethnicity, apparel, nor their particular religious faith.

It was a life-changing experience.

Ron Chaplin
Parish of St. John the Evangelist
Ottawa, Canada

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