It was a balmy spring morning. So balmy that one would have excused the daffodils in case they chose to sleep in and miss their turn to bloom. My mother was driving to the temple on the interstate at a speed that was a tad above the speed limit but not fast enough to interest the nearby cops. Meanwhile on a perpendicular road, another driver decided that the traffic rules did not apply to her and chose to drive right past a stop sign…into my mom’s car. My mom, the cops, the daffodils and most importantly, the airbag were all shaken out of their idyll. I was in Pittsburgh, working on a group project with my classmates when dad called. My reaction, once I got to know that mom had escaped with some bruises, was, “Why did she meet with an accident when she was going to, of all places, the temple?” Dad’s reaction was just a little different – you know the minute difference between chalk and cheese? He said, “Just be happy that she was driving to the temple. It was God that saved her.”
A few thousand miles away, a man in his early 30s had not heard great news from his sister's doctor. Actually, the doctor herself was not great news – she was a fraudster who sadly did not find other professions to swindle people out of their hard earned money. So, for the next few years, they had to suffer from the effects of needless surgeries and their related side effects. The man, a nonbeliever, spent countless hours gleaning relevant research materials to identify the best course of treatment, giving short shrift to his own career. They then happened upon a doctor who, thanks to his skill and kind-heartedness, scripted a heartwarming end to a rather dark chapter in their life -- the sister recovered fully and the brother revitalized his career. And what happened to the charlatan? Nothing untoward as far as I know (but that really is beside the point).
My parents are equal opportunity believers. Of the plethora of Hindu Gods, they have never shied away from worshipping any deity. In essence, they have never fenced themselves within the confines of our subsect of Hinduism. In the late 90s, my Dad experienced an inexplicable but definite affinity towards Lord Muruga. He started worshipping Muruga with the kind of passion and vigor that seemed strong even for his standards. One night, he started writing a supplicatory poem on Muruga. But here is the thing. There was nothing in the poem for him. He did not pray for himself or ‘ask’ for anything in particular. The verses were strongly rooted in values. Sample the first two lines – Aganthai Azhiponey Poatri, Aganthooimai ALiponey Poatri… It roughly translates into a plea to remove all traces of arrogance and bless people with purity of heart.
To me, these people that I have mentioned above represent the best of either ends of the theism spectrum. They are very clear about their anchors. Whenever turbulence strikes their life in any way, shape or form, they know when and how to drop anchor. Their anchors are sturdy, unwavering and help them weather many a storm. One anchor might be carved out of rational thought, the other out of religious beliefs. But they contribute largely to the steeliness of their owners. I also find it enormously touching that they use the anchors to lend solid support to their close relationships. I recently read a quote by author Anna Quindlen that “grief is a whisper in the world and a clamor within.” I have been witness to these people utilizing what is best known to them to acknowledge and act upon their loved ones’ needs. In essence, their authentic reactions, as different as they may be from one another, are musical notes played lovingly to gently silence the painful internal "clamor." If in one case the instrument is passionate prayers, in another case is deep thoughtfulness. Both have a rightful place in this world because, after all, they are utilized in service of the most noble value of all – selflessness.