Well, Memorial Day weekend has come and not quite gone. I'm writing this on Memorial Day, formerly called Decoration Day; a day that the government set aside to honor the soldiers who gave their lives so this country could be free from tyranny.
In modern times, we sometimes forget what we are supposed to be remembering on Memorial Day. After all, it also means the beginning of the summer season: frolic, freedom and sunshine. This Memorial Day weekend has been very different for a lot of people and the nation as a whole …. but not for everybody, I guess. Lots of Americans are frolicking in the sunshine, very close to each other and appearing to be having a great time. Are they not remembering??? Not to be judgy ... and maybe it isn’t true. One true thing is that you never know what another is thinking or feeling privately, and it's probable that a lot of these Americans have lost brothers and sisters to war, and need to celebrate life in their way. And anyway, who am I really to judge? Nobody. All I know is that this year more than most, I am remembering what is lost, and when I see these celebrations on this day, it leaves me the opposite of celebratory.
Because, unless I'm missing something, the frolickers don't seem (important word, seem) to be remembering the 10,000 New Yorkers and 7,000 New Jerseyans and 100,000 Americans who have perished in the past couple of months due to something that we used to call Covid-19, a wildly infectious disease. Is it just me, or are people forgetting so soon? I mean, the numbers are astonishing. 3,000 people died on 9/11 and we will never forget. 700 people died in the heat wave in Chicago and we were horrified. And consider cholera. Even people who don't know much about history recognize the word "cholera" and associate it with a large amount of suffering and death. Did you know that in the three cholera epidemics that hit New York City in the 19th century, the number of deaths combined was less than the 10,000 recorded in the past 2 months? I did not know that either. Also, the ill and dead were mostly poor; lots of immigrants (Irish, apparently) and living in crowds by necessity.
So on this Memorial Day, I am observing our people forgetting to remember something that is happening right now.
I have a neighbor who is an Afghan War vet; he did me a favor this morning. I thanked him for that and also, on this day, for his service as a soldier. He said, and I quote: “It's not a happy day. My friends and I are posting the names of all our buddies …”
I feel a little somber today. Maybe tomorrow will be better. These emotions are complicated.
So, what are you remembering? Those who have passed, or the fact the skies are blue in India and LA for the first time in decades? The plight of the of essential worker, who sustains the daily grind, scared, tired, hot and uncompensated; or that jellyfish (not dolphins, sorry!) bobbed in the canals in Venice? That the sunsets are more gorgeous that usual? The apprehension, the worry, the loneliness? The simple joy of cooking with your families, and watching your kids play with each other? The soldiers? The nurses? The music? The quiet?
And if you, like me, like literally dozens of people I know, have said “I have a confession to make. I kind of like quarantine …..” we know we didn’t mean the pandemic, the death, or the suffering. We don’t like the economic breakdown or the political infighting. We like the quiet, the pause, the ability to reflect and read a book. The absence of that pressure to go somewhere, do something which is inescapable in all of our modern lives. No FOMO ... it's all online! As we in the Northeast gingerly restart our lives in the weeks and months ahead, I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to be experiencing a vague and nameless mourning, for what we will miss and our world has lost.
So, as we re-connect and welcome more company, maybe we can ask of each other: What WILL you remember, and what would you like to memorialize? and to bring with you, into the next uncertain part of your life? And, what can we do to help each other??