We Need What The Pandemic Has Deprived Us of the Most
In 1896, Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda delivered a series of lectures in New York.
After one lecture, a journalist in New York sat down to interview him.
The journalist said, “Sir, in your last lecture, you told us about Jogajog (Contact) and Sanjog (Connection). It’s really confusing. Can you explain?”
Swami Vivekananda smiled. Seemingly deviating from the question, he asked the journalist, “Are you from New York?”
“Yeah,” the journalist said.
“Who is present at your home?”
The journalist felt Swami Vivekananda was trying to circumvent his question by asking personal and unwarranted questions of his own. But he played along.
Mother has expired. Father is alive. And I have three brothers and sisters. All married…”
“Do you talk to your father?” Swami Vivekananda asked with a smile.
Visibly annoyed, the journalist said nothing. So Swami Vivekananda asked him, “When did you last talk to him?”
“Maybe a month ago,” the journalist said, suppressing his annoyance.
Swami Vivekananda further asked, “Do you meet your brothers and sisters often? When did you all last meet as a family?”
The journalist let out a sigh. “Christmas, two years ago.”
“How many days you stay together?”
Swami Vivekananda continued asking questions. “Did you have breakfast, lunch, or dinner together? Did you ask how he was? Did you ask how his days pass after your mother’s death?”
Tears welled up in the journalist’s eyes. Swami Vivekananda held his hand and said, “Don’t be embarrassed, upset or sad. I am sorry if I have hurt you… But this is the answer to your question about Contact and Connection.”
He explained that the journalist had contact with his family, but the connection was missing. A connection, the Swami said, is “between hearts… sitting together, sharing meals, and caring for each other; touching, shaking hands, having eye contact…”
We’ve forgotten the beauty of connection.
Before 2020, contact ruled our lives.
We used the count of our Twitter followers and the number of our LinkedIn contacts to judge our worth. We found it enough to leave congratulatory messages as DM’s or comments when people posted on social media about major life events like getting married or giving birth, instead of calling or meeting them to convey more personal messages.
We texted “hi” to 20 friends and were satisfied with a tiny dopamine kick each time someone texted “hi” back.
If anything, the lockdown gave us more time to thrive on contact. We had more time to scroll Instagram, tweet, and text. But this contact felt empty. And the feeling we’ve ended up missing is the one we’d taken for granted — connection.
We miss get-togethers, dinner meets, coffee dates, and even the boring face-to-face meetings and networking events. We crave hugs, handshakes, eye contact, gossip, and laughing without worrying about what the next day will bring.
Before the lockdowns, these were tiny, beautiful, stories worth cherishing that went unnoticed while we obsessed over posting content. But these stories gave us the strength to make it through one more day and the hope that no matter how bleak situations seemed, things would get better. They made us feel warm without our knowing.
I crave that warmth again. And in the past few months, the more I got it, the more I cherished it.
When I met my friend — a doctor whom I had lost touch with — during a vaccination drive, we stood for 20 minutes and just talked. About vaccines, about how stressful the last year had been for her, and about how we both kept skipping our workouts.
When my friend admitted his dad to the ICU, I sat with him for four hours at the hospital. More than him, I did it for myself. Sitting with him, talking to him, letting him know he could rely on me, injected tiny doses of optimism and hope in me too.
When I spoke to my friend on the phone after six months last week, we discussed the ammunitions of the Indian Armed Forces for 45 minutes. No politics, no pandemic, no lockdown. Just rifles, planes, and avionics.
This craving for connection is why many of us have been re-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. The warmth in their relationships was originally fun to watch on screen. But since the lockdown, we’re vicariously enjoying that warmth through Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, and the others, because we can’t get it in our real lives.
Nobody knows when things will return to normal and what the new normal will actually look like. We don’t have control over any of that.
What we do have control over is how we nurture our relationships from here on in.
Can we value connection more than contact? Can we care about the people who love us more than the ones who “like” our tweets and Instagram photos? Can we build stronger bonds with the people who uplift us and let go of the ones that press us down?
Let’s focus on building connections between hearts as the world limps back to normal. I’m sure that it will strengthen our relationships, not just with others but with ourselves too.