Pandemic Prompts

When Your Condo Burns Down Just Before a Pandemic Hits by John Zajc

“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.

When Your Condo Burns Down Just Before a Pandemic Hits

John Zajc

In the early morning of December 11, 2019, I saw smoke wafting and swirling particles of smoke in the hallway of my condo building and knew immediately that my life was going to be changing. It was probably 12 hours later -- on the 12th day of the 12th month, that a virus 0.12 microns wide was identified as making people sick in a time zone 12 hours ahead of me. I had no idea that eventually these two events would come together.

I managed the upheaval caused by the fire by focusing on the good things in life. The kindnesses of friends and strangers. The blessing of having a caring, kind and loving spouse. The acknowledgement that I had things easy because of the circumstances of birth, upbringing and life choices. The opportunity to try living downsized in a new neighborhood. To be forced into creating new ways of living my life. I managed at first by focusing on an hour at a time, then a day at a time. Now I was living in new routines. But I was still holding onto a few strategies for making time pass happily.

And then 12 weeks after the fire, that 0.12 micron virus made itself an inescapable part of my life; my first pandemic.

Life in the time of pandemic is not in-person, day-of-election voting. It’s not March Madness. It’s not Tax Day in April. It’s not a snow day. It’s not a party. Not a disco. It’s not foolin’ around.

Existentially, in time of pandemic life could no longer be a mirage, a white lie that I told myself daily. It could no longer consist of predictable routines to produce a rhythm to danced to. It could no longer be the luxury of having plans that would pull me forward through the slog of the everyday. No longer; how much longer?

Everyday now is a new twist of the kaleidoscope, everyday there is a new pattern. I struggle with this changeability, especially with an inability to knows what’s next. I try to remain focused on my blessings, and look for something new to learn about myself, about life. I think want to see the fire as having a personal impact, but hope that the pandemic has a broader societal impact. My naive optimism, though battered badly by my displacement experience, hopes and prays that this tiny invader can bring us all together by reminding us all that it’s not about me or you, it’s about us.