Pandemic Prompts

Act of God by Theresa Göttl Brightman

“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity," wrote T.S. Eliot. To help make productive use of our self-isolation and social distancing, Lit Cleveland is offering free writing challenges each week via our newsletter. The following piece is a response to the Negative Definition prompt.

Act of God

by Theresa Göttl Brightman

It was not an act of God.

No man with a long white beard and a staff told us to paint our lintels in lamb’s blood. There were no rivers running red, no swarms of biting flies or deforesting locusts or frogs on a migration march. There were no boils.

It was not the zombie apocalypse. It was not a teenager’s novel about a dystopian future, despite the way some stocked up on all manner of weapons with enough firepower to kill an entire city. Imagine that kind of destructive power all housed under a single roof. But we didn’t need to guard our homes with an arsenal to control soulless mobs.

It was not a message sent by Mother Earth, or by aliens, or by the gods of the sea and air. It was not a lesson designed to teach humanity about our unrelenting consumerism. Yes, the dolphins returned to the clarified canals and wild boar and deer roamed down streets that, once, hundreds of years ago, their ancestors trod as migratory game trails. But it was not a message.

There was no intent behind it, no mastermind, no conspiracy, no supernatural force testing the fortitude of mankind. There was no battle between good and evil. There were no signs. There were no wheels of fire turning in the sky, no prophetic acclamations booming from the clouds, no incidental crackles of lightning.

It was not an act of God.

Some people saw it that way, in the way that people seek meaning in tea leaves or the placement of a shoe or the touch of a breeze. In the way that a cardinal is a good omen sent by a late relative. In the way that a monarch butterfly is a sign. In the way that we crave to know that there is purpose and meaning in everything that happens to us, in the way that we hope and pray that our lives are more than a random series of unplanned events, in the way that we beg our divinities, the universe, our God, that this will all make sense to us, that these events serve a greater purpose, that we will understand, not now, but someday.

It was not.

But it was an opportunity.

It was an opportunity to love your neighbor. It was an opportunity to reassess what we saw as important. It was an opportunity to stretch our capacity for empathy. It was an opportunity for creativity, no only in our own silent practices in our own isolated homes, but an opportunity for creativity in new ways to reach out to our fellow cohabitors on this spinning blue planet. It was an opportunity to see our existence anew.

And that was an act of grace.