John Littlejohn

Prior to this pandemic my multi-faceted career required face-to-face interaction on a daily basis. As a touring musician with Infinitus, the beatboxing string trio, we were performing around 150 live shows a year and were just starting to branch into international tours. I was also teaching violin lessons 3 days a week and serving as an associate pastor at a local church. Every day of the week I was face-to-face with others rehearsing, performing, teaching, ministering, serving, and whatever else life required. As a married father of 5 beautiful children, I wasn’t getting quality time with my family and was on the verge of burnout.

I was performing with Infinitus at a children’s festival in Egypt when COVID-19 was officially announced as a worldwide pandemic. I watched the eager audiences of Egyptian children quickly dwindle as people began to get nervous about the possibility of contracting this mysterious and deadly virus. With Italy and Iran close by, Egyptians were nervous about what this disease would do to their close-knit communities and began to take precautions. Fortunately, we finished the festival and returned to Canada just days before they closed the border. Just before the border closed, I naïvely returned to my normal in-person activities, receiving no advice from border agents to do otherwise. I felt great and the people in Egypt were more careful than those in Canada. I was more concerned about contracting COVID-19 than transmitting it!

I recognised my mistake when fellow faculty members that used to cheerfully greet me quickly backed away when they saw me coming down the hallways, pale with the fear that I was certain to breath death on them! I also got an angry email from a concerned congregant wondering why I was putting the health of the church at risk by attending service the day after I returned. I’m glad I had those experiences because it taught me how it felt to be ostracised by those afraid of this virus, leading me to be careful not to use fear as an excuse to be unloving and unkind.

Within a matter of days, I faced what so many artists have faced around the world: the need to pivot and navigate around a new, quickly changing artistic terrane.

Navigate. That is my favourite verb for what I’ve done during this pandemic. How have I survived this pandemic? By the grace of God, I’ve been navigating over the hurdles and through the valleys. I’ve navigated onto new online platforms for teaching, performing, and connecting. I’ve navigated through the complications of learning to hold church gatherings online. In the face of blatant anti-blackness and open death, I’ve navigated between personal grief and helping others through their anxiety and mourning. I’ve navigated being at home with all of my family every day. And somehow, like an ironic miracle, I’ve moved forward when so much else has seemed to go backward. By navigating, I’m slowly arriving at a new place in life, facing new opportunities. I can speak Mandarin now, navigate through Zoom and Google Drive like a Gen X ninja, and am feeling more appreciative of life, community, and family.

It’s odd but I don’t even know the way back to life before March 2020, nor am I trying to retrace my steps. It’s forward from here.


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