Anita Rangaswami, Guest Columnists
The last two years will go down in history as one of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation. The global pandemic of the 21st century was similar to the Spanish Flu that started as a European/Asian phenomenon of the 20th century and spread globally. COVID-19 spread uncontrollably with the ease of travel within and between countries until many countries closed their borders, aggressively developed and tested vaccines, and began to implement preventive measures like wearing masks and “social distancing.” Every segment of the population: seniors, middle-aged, young adults, teenagers, and children, was impacted. Strangely, COVID-19 became an “equalizing” mechanism highlighting some common areas of vulnerability within various populations and age groups. The virus impacted every segment of the worldwide population physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
The familiar bustling daily routine of work, school, childcare, and home was certainly disrupted. With shelter in place orders in many states, COVID put a hold on the extracurricular activities for young and old. Community events and personal social engagements became a fading dream of the past! Every person had a different external response to the pandemic and an individual reaction to the COVID virus.
Are there lessons to be learned from a single-celled organism that suddenly brought about a dramatic pause in the lives of billions of multi-celled, multifunctional, and multi-tasking human beings?
Absolutely! The research conducted by the scientific communities across the globe was invaluable to alleviate the initial fear factor of the unidentified virus. Public health education helped reduce the anxiety in communities and highlighted ways to protect oneself and one’s family. With all the misinformation on the internet and social media, there was more uncertainty on the specific protocols to be used. However, taking precautionary measures like frequent hand washing, wearing masks and physical distancing became the new normal.
Combating the social and spiritual isolation felt by many people, young and old was the most challenging part of the pandemic! The camaraderie, conversations, connectivity, and caring that many faith groups had taken for granted and enjoyed in past years was suddenly snatched away. The daily and weekly services at each of our places of worship: temples, churches, mosques, or synagogues had to pivot quickly and go online to serve the public. That was a herculean task for smaller places of worship that lacked the infrastructure to pivot.
Personally, prayer and scriptural readings were an integral part of my daily life since childhood. But there were no Hindu temples when I moved to Arizona thirty-five years ago. When our son turned three, we started leading a small Hindu prayer group with adults and children gathering in individual homes. We wanted to connect with other families in the valley and maintain the spiritual connection with the Divine. The group has grown and changed over the past thirty years.
During COVID, we maintained our daily prayer routines at home while tuning into various local and global religious ceremonies and spiritual discourses offered by the temples.
The in-home daily prayers and online spiritual discourses were a blessing to keep our sanity though we missed the conversations, dinners, and group connectivity.
COVID showed us that prayer has its place during times of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. Science and spirituality can coexist to maintain one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Truthful reporting of facts and figures by local, state, and national public health organizations can be just as important as practicing one’s faith with conscientiousness. Individual prayer provides strength and comfort, promotes forbearance, and spreads harmony and joy. Most importantly, families who can pray together, care for each other, and break bread together can stay together.