Memorial Day has a special poignancy when thousands of people are needlessly dying from a disease. As the unofficial kick-off to summer, the holiday also marks the loosening of restrictions (most likely prematurely) and we can only wonder how many more will die when our usual carelessness resumes. I’m not alone, I suspect, in hoping that this crisis will have brought some permanent changes, such as thinking about others. It’s almost impossible to hope that such consciousness will rise to the level of government, of course, but if we the roots of the grass care for one another won’t that care naturally grow to a national level? Americans have long loved the myth of rugged individualism. There may have been a day when that was plausible, but we are now so interconnected that anyone considered successful has become so only because of considerable support of others.
This holiday is all about remembering. Unfortunately remembering our war dead hasn’t done much to prevent wars. If they’re not the acting out of our fears (as every belligerence since World War II seems to have been) then what are they? Phobias of communists, terrorists, and assorted “others” lead us into mass killing, often for economic gain. What if we were to put those vast military resources toward fighting a deadly disease? What if we had a national will to take care of our people rather than to enrich ourselves? Wouldn’t we be all the richer for it? Instead we face more needless deaths, more people to remember on the next Memorial Day. Maybe the sun will be shining then.
Those of us non-essential workers who’ve nevertheless been working remotely these past two-and-a-half months have a day off today. Many will want to gather, but we know it’s not really a good idea. We know the way infection works. We have no battle plan against COVID-19. We’re chomping at the bit for economic vitality, forgetting that those who are on the front lines are continuing to get sick. It’s strange to have a holiday under such circumstances. The warmer weather invites us outdoors while the plague drives us inside. There’s a place for bravery, but when bravado masks itself with foolishness there will be a price to pay. It’s Memorial Day and we can honor our dead by not rushing to join them with unreflective premature relaxing of safety measures. Let’s stay safe this holiday by remembering what we’ve learned.