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Carpe Diem

I grew up hearing about the flu epidemic of 1918–and knowing how contagious disease can affect a family’s history. My 26-year-old paternal grandfather died in that epidemic; he left behind his 23-year-old wife and my dad, not quite three years old. This tragedy determined the trajectory of the lives of my beloved grandmother and dad; it left a hole in our family tree that no amount of time could ever fill. 

Because of my grandfather’s fate, contagious diseases, especially the flu, have always frightened me. I am obsessive about reminding people to get a flu shot, and I become frightened when one of my children gets a cold that lingers. I know I cannot keep my loved ones in a plastic bubble, but I do wish I could erect an invisible shield around them to ensure their good health.

And now I must confront the coronavirus. I confess that it keeps me tossing and turning; when I do fall asleep, nightmares invade my dreams. I teach in a university’s Writing Center, engaging with students, from both the United States and abroad, in a very small setting. I love my job, but now I worry that one of my students may be sharing the virus, not just their writing, with me. I frequently ride a public bus. I used to like making up stories about my fellow passengers, but now I scrutinize them to determine whether they exhibit any signs of the coronavirus. When I recently ushered at a theater, I kept dousing my hands with sanitizer after taking tickets from the patrons.

I am planning to visit my daughter in New York City next week. Should I risk riding the Megabus–sitting in an enclosed environment for eight hours with people who could potentially infect me? Should I risk staying at a hotel in a room used by other guests from diverse parts of the world? Should I let fear of contagion prevent me from spending precious time with my daughter?

Yes, I am a worrier, but I am trying to convince myself that worrying will not protect me from whatever fate awaits. I can wash my hands, eat my fruits and vegetables, and ride my stationary bike to remain healthy, but what will be will be.

The most I can do is live a “carpe diem” life, because I do not know–and cannot control–what tomorrow will bring.

Ronna Edelstein
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


2 thoughts on “Carpe Diem”

  1. Such a beautiful and brave piece written by someone obviously close to her father that was so traumatized by his loss at such a young age. No wonder you sometimes obsess. I advise taking the bus trip, seeing your daughter. If you want to take precautions wear a mask but put it on carefully. Beware of coughers and sneezers who do not cover up. Wash hands frequently. Nightmares are our friends . they teach us what to be mindful of. You are a great writer. Your students are lucky. Keep it up.

  2. That flu affected my family profoundly. I tell about it in the story above yours. Yes, we can’t help but wonder if this one will take more we love or take us.

    Thank you for sharing so openly.

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