Life in the Time of the Coronavirus: Voices from Silver Spring—Zed MeKonnen, Zed’s Café, Silver Strings

Guest post by Jonna Huseman

What is your profession/involvement in the community?
I am a small business owner. I run Silver Strings. It’s a new music venue just down from the Fillmore that we opened in September 2019. I also own Zed’s Café.
How has your life changed since the community has been impacted by Coronavirus?
Specifically, the daily activity—nothing is the same anymore. The business is not open, so my interaction with people, what I can do, where I can go, is limited.
Are you working more or less?
I’m working less. I worked 14 to 15 hours a day for the last 10 years. I would open up the restaurant, provide service to customers, wash the dishes, do the paperwork. We don’t do that anymore. I’m doing things around the house and reading a lot—just being more introspective.
What are you most afraid of?
I’m not actually afraid. I’ve been reflecting a lot on personally how grateful I am. When I put myself in other peoples’ shoes—the ones who aren’t here, who have lost a family member, or someone they love—my hardships are nothing compared to that. I’m grateful just to be alive. As long as you are alive you can do something else.
What are you most hopeful for?
I think it is humbling just to be around love. Love gives me a way around.

Before I was so busy I never really had time to think. Now, I sit down and I’m able to think. I can have an idea and those ideas are what make life worth living. If you can think, you can create an idea. If you can create an idea, you can make that idea happen. We may end up losing our business, but you can always do something. I feel very hopeful.
What has been the most challenging part of this experience for you?
The most challenging thing for me has been recognizing that what is happening is beyond my control. I don’t watch a lot of news or TV because when I take in that much sadness it can really start to get to me. Like, there was the story from Takoma Park of this lady who passed away and she was pregnant. Things like that affect me. You think, “Why not me?”
I’m the kind of person who, when there is a problem, I work to find a solution. But with this, there’s nothing you can do. You want to do something, but you don’t know what to do and that becomes really challenging. In the beginning, I felt really helpless. Over time, I started to understand that this is beyond my willpower. It is what it is and recognizing that this is bigger than any of us humbles you.
Is there anything—even a tiny thing—you enjoy or like about sheltering in place?
Yes. In the beginning I was focused on how I may lose my business and on other people in our community losing their jobs. Now I look at it backwards. I look at what I have. I don’t look at what I don’t have. I see that I can wake up in the morning, I can see that I’m still alive, I see that the sun still comes up. I see nature. Life is a gift in and of itself. That’s how I think about it. I did not have that perspective before. Now, I just try to stay grateful.

What do you think society as a whole will learn from this experience?
I hope we learn a lot from this because we are very interconnected. Even globally, not just here in Silver Spring. As humans, we are here for a very limited time. You have to look at what is really important. When you think about life and follow that trajectory, you end up with the question, “What is my purpose in life?” The answer, in my opinion, is that we are made for each other.

My niece is a nurse, my sister-in-law is a doctor. For them, it’s like, wow. Our life is meaningless without these people. They are out there saving lives and my job is just making cappuccinos. It puts things in perspective. You realize there are people out there risking their lives for other people.

How are you coping with stress/taking care of yourself?
I read. I don’t watch TV. I don’t like the daily news, so I watch the best lectures I can find on YouTube. I look for things that are spiritual, or based on science and technology. Other than that, I just try to be grateful for what I have. That is really important.
When future generations ask, what will you tell them about this time in your life?
That we learned just how interconnected the world is. I would tell them life is a gift. You come to this world and you don’t know how long you stay. There isn’t a lot of certainty. Be humble. Be happy. See life that way. A lot of things you can’t control, so whatever comes at you, look at it with humility and have perspective on it. Recognize that there are some things you cannot change.

What would you like your friends and neighbors in Silver Spring/Montgomery County to know?
This is a great community. I live in Silver Spring. I work in Silver Spring. Both of my businesses are here. People in this area are extremely generous. They are very nice people.

Jonna Huseman is a family photographer who serves Silver Spring and beyond. During the COVID-19 crisis, she is using her free time to document the lives of friends and neighbors living through the pandemic.

Author’s note: Over the coming days and weeks I am documenting the lives of dozens of members of the Silver Spring and Takoma Park community. My goal is to talk to teachers and students, religious leaders, small business owners, frontline workers, parents, elected leaders, and private citizens. I want to learn about our collective hopes and dreams, our biggest challenges, and our greatest triumphs. Mostly, I want to build connection and create community at a time when we need it the most. If you live or work in Silver Spring or Takoma Park and are interested in having your life documented at this time—or know someone who has a unique experience and is willing to share—please contact me. To all those who have made this project possible, including Source of the Spring, I thank you for your time and generosity. To the neighbors who will respond in the future, I look forward to getting to know you. And to everyone reading—stay healthy and safe. We will make it through.

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