Sunday, May 24, 2020

Let's Have a Different Memorial Day This Year

Growing up in my family we often visited the graves of our relatives and ancestors on Memorial Day weekend. The holiday was just as much about our personal need to pay respect to the dead we knew as it was a time to remember fallen soldiers from America's wars. I still can remember looking at the German inscriptions on the grave of my great-great-grandmother, coming face to face with a heritage that had been drained from my family's life through assimilation by the time I was born. This practice by my family is certainly not the norm.

In America's public life the holiday is either the unofficial start of the summer, or in recent years has become Veterans Day II and Armed Forces Day II rolled together, the remembrance of death forgotten in favor of jingoism. This year, in the midst of 100,000 covid deaths, I think we should celebrate the holiday differently.

There's been a lot of talk, especially from the president, about how fighting the disease is some kind of "war." However, the dead have gone unmourned, including health care workers sent out to face the disease without proper supplies. The president and so many others have failed to mourn these dead, as many as fell in all of America's wars since World War II, because they would rather dodge responsibility and pretend that this isn't a big deal.

Because of the restrictions forced by the virus, these dead died mostly alone without proper funerals. For those reasons, it is especially important that the dead be properly remembered. I propose that Memorial Day this year be a national day of mourning and remembrance for the dead of this virus. The dead soldiers of America's wars are certainly in no danger of being forgotten. 

The vast majority of people in this country are in favor of social distancing, but the ingrates who break it get all of the press coverage. Our national leadership directly undermines any sense of shared civic responsibility, even though it is something that we are all living out on a daily basis when we elect to stay quarantined. The president won't do anything to mourn the dead, but WE can.

So tomorrow on Memorial Day I plan to wear all black and to set time aside to mourn and remember the dead. I will give myself a moment of silence at 3:11, since it was on March 11th that the enormity of the situation sank in for me. I'll listen to Barber's Adagio and Albinoni's Adagio and cry for awhile. 

You might think this is silly, that my lone action is pretty meaningless. Well to quote one of my favorite lines from the Dada art movement, it is meaningless, just like everything else. In this cruel world ruled by capricious fate we can only make it bearable by being in solidarity with our fellow human beings. This Memorial Day, let's not forget to do that. 

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