Tuesday, September 15, 2020

 THE POWER OF TIME AND THE PANDEMIC CYCLE

Franja Zanic, a small book of poems

A few days ago I celebrated my 44th birthday. I distinctly remember the time when my mom turned 44. My sister and made her a card; it said: "Happy birthday, mama, this is the year when you will be sitting on two chairs." The expression "sitting on two chairs" in Croatia usually means trying to please everyone, or trying to do many things at the same time, and we wanted to acknowledge how our mom was always working hard on all fronts, and we knew well that her multitasking was not an easy undertaking. 

My parents both having math degrees, there was a lot of talk about numbers in our house anyway, so my sister and I naturally concluded how appropriate was that 44 resembled two chairs. 

This all now feels like it was a hundred years ago!

Today, if my grandfather Franja was still alive, it would have been his 100th birthday. He was a writer and just a few days ago my sister stumbled upon a Wiki page about him, discovering his exact birth date. 

Unfortunately, instead of turning 100, my grandfather died at 26. He caught tuberculosis during the WWII, and didn't recover, my grandmother Kornelija outlived him by only a few years (she died at the age of 33).

That being said, my dad lost his father when he was just 2 and his mother at 13. The story of their lives and their unfortunate destinies resonates so powerfully at this time when the entire world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The passing of time and its relativity is so very strange. What is - a long time, what is - only a little bit? Regardless whether there is a way to answer that question - it is so apparent that our (human) fragility is very real. Every moment truly counts. 

My grandfather lived to be only 26, he was at the battlefields, fighting the Nazis, I imagine he was often starving, cold and miserable, like so many young people around him. And yet during his short life, he passionately wrote poetry, studied Slavistics at the University of Zagreb, and in Vinkovci, (the city where he lived, where my dad was born and where I was born) - a street was named after him. He left a little mark. 

Not to mention he and Kornelija had my dad, and without their existence I wouldn't be here, my sister wouldn't be here, our children wouldn't be here today.

I don't know much about my grandfather Franja, we only heard stories from other people. That he was incredibly bright, passionate, that while his siblings were playing in the yard, he would be stuck indoors and devour literature. His younger brother would tell him - "Franja, why don't you come outside, get some sunlight, play ball with me?" But he was so driven and obsessed with books, he would simply forget to get out. 

I only have this small selection of his poems. It is so unusual to read his words, see his handwriting and his young face on a black and white photo, see my grandma's name (Kornelija) mentioned in several poems.

The notion that the two of them were at some point in time perfectly real, with their loves, and passions and joys and sorrows, and I am already so much, much older than either of them!