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Family Matters

By Anu Varma Panchal

A season for light in the darkness

Remember how hectic Novembers used to be?

The remains of October awaited cleanup. Chaniya cholis, pooja paraphernalia and dandiya sticks had to be reassessed and reorganized. Styrofoam gravestones and skeletons damp from fall storms had to be rounded up from front yards and bid farewell for a year.

Ahead, the commotion of November beckoned: Diwali party group texts. Procuring of sweets. Tailors to be found for blouse alterations. Travel plans for Thanksgiving to be made, with pleasant anticipation of Christmas festivities just beyond. If you lived in or around Tampa Bay, there was also the commotion of India Festival, of driving kids to practices all over town and the fun drama of backstage volunteering. The seasonal hullaballoo played out against the ceaseless background of work, school and kids’ activities.

Oh, how we humblebragged about the constant coming and going. It was too much, we told each other every weekend, this crazy desi social life. We needed some peace and quiet!

Cliché number one that has turned out to be a slogan for the times: Be careful what you wish for.

As Covid-19 roared across the world like a demon, we learned what those whose lives have been upended by accidents, health setbacks, poverty and war have always known. Anything can happen.

Since that pivotal moment in March when the world as we knew it shut down, we were forced into a crash course in patience and humility as we watched world leaders wrestle with the tidal wave. For a few months, it was like we all operated with a collective consciousness. Years from now when we look back at this surreal time, certain phrases will become hallmarks of the weeks following that March shutdown: Clapping for healthcare workers. Zoom cocktail hours. Drive-by birthday parties. The gourmet cooking phase. The Dalgona coffee phase. Tiger King! Murder hornets! My cousins even upped the ante with a family scriptwriting competition that resulted in a 20-minute short film. Resourceful friends began making masks and meals for healthcare workers.

Many suffered harsher disruptions — opportunities were lost, trajectories that might never be regained changed. Some went through a parallel crisis simultaneously, working through complicated health issues or job displacements along with navigating a pandemic world. Those already suffering from mental health issues now struggle with isolation compounding their conditions. And still, all of the above are lucky when compared to anyone who suffered the ultimate horror of losing a loved one to this disease.

Throw in the most contentious political climate we can remember in recent history, and we have all the ingredients of a year-end that has us simmering in anxiety. Never before has the world so badly been in need of a little light. Thank goodness that the next major item on the holiday agenda is Diwali.

From the literal definition of lamps lighting the darkness to the metaphorical one of dispelling ignorance with truth, Diwali is the spiritual state of mind the world needs right now. We need a way to look beyond this current tense holding pattern.

I’ve searched for bright spots close to home and been fortunate to find them. I miss seeing family in person, but have enjoyed Zoom reunions with extended family and high school and college friend groups that haven’t spoken in years. Watching the news almost always leaves me tense and outraged, but the dedication of those fighting the disease and working for justice has inspired me. While I’m sad about my kids’ loss of socialization and real school, I’m grateful to have them so accessible to me at home all day. I’ve gained compassion for those who for various reasons have always had a difficult time engaging fully with the world.

When all else fails, I turn to the adorable babies in my life, particularly my nephew and two sweet nieces, whose videos and Facetime sessions work as instant pick-me-ups. Watching my niece do garba in her backyard or my nephew cheerfully warble songs in toddler-ese makes me happy because of their complete innocence. But it also makes me yearn for the time when I can hold them next, and reminds me to never again take for granted the luxury of time spent in person with loved ones.

We humans have been through hard times before. Optimism, hope and participation can make a difference between surviving, enduring or really living through the next few months. Let’s wish each other light, love and tolerance as we round the final lap of 2020.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of

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