A New Normal by Margo Zani

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Julie Dunn assembling a wooden cross decorated with live flowers to celebrate the Easter holiday. Dunn explained that because her family couldn’t attend church they decided to celebrate by building this cross. April 11, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

Saturday, April 11th was my youngest brother Eli’s birthday. He turned 18 which is a pretty significant birthday to be quarantined for. He spent most of his time inside trying to make the most of his special day. At one point, Eli’s friends drove by in their cars outside of our house and honked their horns as a way to celebrate his birthday from afar. It was really sweet but I couldn’t help but feel bad that my brother wasn’t allowed to appropriately celebrate his birthday in a “normal” way.

I thought about how radically different our eighteenth birthdays looked like. Almost three years ago I turned 18 and it happened to be the same day I was graduating from high school. My whole senior year, the thought of sharing my day of celebration with all 400 students of my graduating class bothered me. When the day actually arrived, it turned out to be one of the best birthdays I’d ever had. We were all celebrating something and got to be surrounded by so many people with lots of hugs and socializing. Now fast forwarding to April 11, 2020 Eli wasn’t even allowed to spend the day with his friends or even think about having a party if he wanted to because of COVID-19. Don’t get me wrong my family and I celebrated him as best as we could but this is just another example of how this pandemic has disrupted what we know to be normal.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Paul Zani, Eli Zani, and Donna Zani celebrating Eli’s 18th birthday. Since quarantine was still going on Eli stayed at home rather than going out and celebrating. April 12, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

In the same weekend, millions across the world celebrated Easter on Sunday, April 12. Churches have not been allowed to gather for weeks now meaning they wouldn’t be able to celebrate one of the most significant days of the year for Christians in the typical way. This was the first time I haven’t gone to church for Easter in as long as I can remember, but that didn’t make the day any less important for me or the millions across the world. Instead of gathering at churches, many of my neighbors placed crosses in their yards or used chalk art as a way to celebrate.

These two celebrations were a bittersweet reminder that life is still moving forward day by day, and that there will be many more birthdays and holidays to come. Hopefully, sooner rather than later we can get back to celebrating the way we used to, but now with a new-found appreciation for being surrounded by friends and family.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Zani family gathers to eat brunch together. They were celebrating both a birthday and Easter during COVID-19. April 12, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

Journal Entry #3

Last week, I was in a meeting for my internship with The House, and my boss asked us to reflect over some questions concerning grief. I was confused. I hadn’t lost anyone so what was I grieving? But grief doesn’t always mean death, and quickly, I began to realize what I actually had lost over the last month. The rest of my spring semester, proximity of friendships, summer plans and much more. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Student interns for The House campus ministry gathering together over Zoom for their weekly intern meeting to discuss all different things pertaining to the ministry. During this meeting, they were told the story of the bible from Genesis to Revelation through different types of foods. April 7, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani).

I have done a decent job at not letting the craziness of this whole situation get the best of me. I have tried to control my emotions, but sometimes it’s hard to deal with so many feelings when they’re happening all at once. In a time where I have the space to process what I’m feeling, the task of discerning each different emotion that comes hand in hand with grief seems overwhelming. They say there are five stages in the grieving process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some days it feels like I am processing all stages at once. However, I have slowly begun to accept this pandemic for what it is. 

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had any hard days during the past month. Some days are productive and some days are lazy. Some days I’m motivated and others I procrastinate until the sun sets. Some days I feel really good, but lately a lot of days have felt heavy. I think it’s because i’m beginning to accept my losses.

However, in my acceptance these are the things that I still know to be true. I am healthy and safe. I have my family who hurts with me, but refuses to let me slip into a funk for too long. I have friends to return to in Chattanooga, and in the meantime phone calls and letters will have to be our best bet at staying in touch. I have simple pleasures that still bring me moments of peace like music, writing and reading. Lastly, I have faith. Faith that this pandemic will eventually end and the process of healing will soon begin for all.

Saturday, April 4, 2020 – Monday, April 6, 2020


Journal Entry #2

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking during my time quarantining. Thinking about my future and how it will be affected when this is over. Thinking about the people I miss and wondering how much longer we have to be apart. Thinking about all the frustrations COVID-19 has caused for everyone and myself. However, in spite of all the negative thoughts that have lingered in my head, I am frequently reminded of all the good around me. The good I see in my family, friends and people across the world who are all affected in some way by this pandemic.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Judy Smothers, Betty Zani and Eli Zani eat dinner together. They are sitting several feet apart since Smothers and Zani are more compromised to COVID-19. March 26, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

Over the last week, I’ve predominantly seen the good in something as simple as being outside. I’ve been reminded of how calming being in the sun is, especially when I’ve been stuck in my house for days at a time. I’m not alone in that. It’s as if the sun was beckoning people out of their homes to be reminded of this simple joy.

In my hometown neighborhood, parents have been congregating in the cul-de-sacs sitting in giant circles in their folding chairs, at appropriate distances of course. Often, I hear kids screaming while they run around playing tag with one another and jump on the trampoline until the sun sets. Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time outside on the back porch of my home for family dinners, other times for morning coffee but most often to think.

Sometimes when the negative thoughts begin to cloud what good I can see, I head to my car to take a drive. With all the windows down, on the not so secret back roads of Franklin, I am reminded of what is good. The sights of families walking the streets, playlists made specifically for quarantine drives and sunsets that look like they’ve been painted keep my thoughts from growing too overwhelming.

This pandemic wants to make it hard to think positively, but it can never steal what good can be found in all of these moments and spaces, and it most definitely cannot steal fresh air and the simple joy of sunlight.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Eli Zani driving on the back roads in Franklin, TN to catch the last few minutes of the sunset. March 31, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)


Journal Entry #1

On March 7th, I made the brief drive home to Franklin, Tennessee for my spring break, never even thinking about the possibility of finishing my junior year of school online. I had been hearing about the coronavirus for a little while, but I had yet to realize its impact on my life. It wasn’t until all of the county public schools in Franklin closed pending further notice that I began to pay attention more to the headlines involving COVID-19. Coronavirus had found Franklin and soon after it spread like wildfire across the US.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Calypso Resort in Panama City, Florida hangs up a sign about social distancing while at the pool. Social distancing, quarantining and the closing of all restaurants and bars quickly began as COVID-19 spread. March 19, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga quickly sent out an email the following week stating that classes would be cancelled until March 23. At the last minute, my family decided to head to the beach for the week. I felt guilty as I laid out in the sun. While the whole world was being asked to practice social distancing and quarantining, I was relaxing on a beach. One night of our vacation, my guilt quickly turned into tears as I cried to my dad describing how overwhelming it was to watch this pandemic escalate so quickly. I cried for my friends who I knew were losing their homes, jobs, graduations and school semesters in a matter of one email. I cried for my own losses.

Two weeks ago, my normal life looked like going to class every day, being with students for my internship with The House Campus Ministry and hanging out with my friends. Now my normal looks like not leaving the house, participating in online class and not physically seeing or touching any of my friends in what feels like forever. This virus crept its way into our lives and made its home in the places we love the most, disrupting anything we knew as normal. It makes me anxious to think about how much longer it has to be like this. I dwell in the unknown of it all and the waiting game for it to end continues to make me anxious.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A new normal looks like living out of duffle bags for several weeks. March 23, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

Although, there is still a long way to go until this pandemic is solved, my heart yearns for the day when I am allowed to leave my house again knowing I will not be harming another individual. For now, I find comfort knowing that in the middle of this mess I am still surrounded by family, moments of rest and plenty of facetime calls with dear friends.

Meet the Storyteller

Margo Zani is a junior at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga majoring in Communications with a minor in Psychology. She enjoys photojournalism and writing stories that portray people’s lives in an authentic way. Margo is passionate about developing deeper relationships with those around her in order to better tell their stories. She currently interns for The House Campus Ministry where she is able to develop that kind of relationship every day. Contact her at yph692@mocs.utc.edu

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