Br(u)no: What We Have Lost

“I remember thinking: What is this world into which they are growing?” Credit: Bruno Zalubil

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization called “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” a pandemic. Since then, COVID-19, as it is more commonly known, has changed the world in ways that will be remembered for a long time. Cities have been locked down. Brides and grooms have worn facemasks. Schools have been moved online. Theatre performances have been cancelled.

And these are just the superficial results.

More than 2.6 million people have died, many with agonizing deaths where they gasped for air that would not circulate properly through their lungs. Hospitals have been overwhelmed. Almost 120 million have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Many others fell ill with non-life-threatening symptoms that went unreported.

And, here we are, a year later. There are now several vaccines and there is hope that an end is in sight.

But Brno is nevertheless “locked down”. Nothing has changed about the danger of the virus that forced governments into unprecedented action; in fact, new variants have become more contagious and more easily spread. Yet, the concern has become dulled by the overwhelming desire to return to real life.

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To what is it that we want so much to return?

It is various. Everyone has their personal list for what they have lost over the past 12 months. Here is a just a quick list from talking to people over the past week or so.

• Holidays — St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Christmas and New Year’s Eve were all curtailed and forced into small-group celebrations.

• Travel — Some may have had perfect timing for a summer escape, but many did not. My children still complain that we cancelled a long-anticipated trip to Caorle on Adriatic Sea, but, at the time, Italy was subsumed with death.

• Office life — Many have been forced into home office, which can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances. Water-cooler arguments, however, are not the same online.

• Social life — Beer drinking in pubs with your friends was cancelled. Gathering in restaurants was mostly ended. Birthday celebrations were called off.

• Sports, professional — There is a valid argument as to whether sports should be played (even without fans) while nearby hospitals are overflowing with people fighting for their lives. In any case, sports have always been a fantasy world for entertainment outside of the normal travails of life. These seasons will forever have asterisks to designate the coronavirus.

• Sports, amateur — Teenagers, in the prime of their athletic careers, have had their youth competitions curtailed, forcing them to make do with bedroom calisthenics and runs around the block.

• Education, general — The classroom moved online for awkward lectures and tests. University students had little of the traditional social experience. High school students had no productions, like the pre-Christmas skits of akademie, and no ples formal dance, no ski trip and no exciting spring break. As one teenage student said: “It took one of the best years of my life, and I won’t ever get it back.”

• Education, graduating students — The Class of 2020 had the final stretch run thrown into chaos prior to their final exams. No begging for money on the streets to celebrate and no graduation party. This spring’s graduation class will have had their final year mostly online, with no stužkování ceremony.

• Culture — Concerts and street festivals were called off. The prestigious Janáček Festival 2020 was jerry-rigged in real time, but most was postponed to this year.

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Personally, as someone who is beginning to feel his age, the past 12 months have been particularly difficult. No travel. No adventures. No new people to meet. Few new experiences to have. Instead, there was a lot of thinking and reconsidering: Just what is important? How much more bullshit is acceptable? Is it worth suffering fools gladly? What truly constitutes a well-lived life?

Paradoxically, the worst part of it all was that the time has gone so quickly. Every month just ticked past, a blur of work and child care, with alcohol mixed in for a time and now a lot of treadmill running to prepare for a marathon.

It feels as though the spring is slowly bringing an end to these bad times, such that the things that we have lost will soon return. I trust that it will and I am preparing for better times. Yet, I fear that I am prematurely putting this coronavirus in the past tense.

In any case, the image that will forever say “coronavirus pandemic” to me is that of my children from a year ago, looking through the French doors of our just-in-time newly built attic. They delighted in watching the neighborhood cat slinking around the adjoining backyards on a warm late-winter afternoon.

I remember thinking: What is this world into which they are growing?

Now, a year later, with the same view of the backyard and the similar weather, the question has changed only slightly: Has the world into which they are growing changed for the better or the worse?

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What is it that you have lost during the past 12 months?

Or, more positively, what have you gained during the past 12 months?

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