Before one enters Harmandir Sahib, the shoes are removed and the hands and feet are washed and purified through water. Yesterday, I took part in the shoe polishing seva, and it was nothing like I could have expected; but by now nothing should be a surprise because India is so alive and filled with new experiences. As I entered the room, all I could think about was how I might react to cleaning the shoes of others because it was something I had never done. I took my place on the floor besides everyone else and was told how the process is supposed to go. “One brush for brown shoes, one for black, and just do one shoe at a time and pass it to the next person.” Simple enough right, but what came next was nothing I could have anticipated. It started off slow but quickly picked up pace. I found myself barely having a break in the assembly line of shoes being passed my way, then something internally begin to happen that made me stop and really reflect.
As I brushed each shoe, it was like looking at the reflection of the journey that was walked by the person who owned the shoes that I did not know and would probably never meet. There was an array of styles, sizes, some for men, some for children, and some for women. Some looked new, others older, more worn, and even torn. With each brush stroke, I felt like the residue of the past was being pushed away and being replaced by the rejuvenation that is felt around the temple. But the beauty of it all was that I realized in that moment, even the more, that the Harmandir Sahib welcomes people from so many walks of life. It made me remember that you never know where a person has been or where they are going. Removing the shoes before entering the temple eliminates the materialistic distinction that could separate people. This action unifies; because it is not about one’s past or future, but about the present, the acts of seva and reverence for God that people share as they dwell within the temple walls. Shoe polishing was such a humbling experience, and it was an honor to perform that seva. I can only imagine the smiles of the faces of the people who received there shoes that day. I know that I left that room with a smile, humble heart, and peace of mind. This may sound cliche, but truly, things are never what they seem.