Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day in a Time of Pandemic

Today is Memorial Day, a day that has often been strange for me.   Once we would have spent the week-end in Jacksonville with old college friends. During some of those years, we had to leave on Sunday, because I taught in South Carolina, a state which didn’t have Memorial Day as a state holiday. Memorial Day began as a day to honor the Union dead, so many southern states had an alternate Confederate Memorial Day. And my school didn't have many of the federal holidays off at all.

But I digress.

That tradition ended when one friend's marriage ended. In more recent years, we've stayed down here and not done much special--although we often meet up with friends at least once during the week-end.  The friends that we would most often meet are staying very isolated during this pandemic time, as she has some underlying health conditions.

I often think that I'd rather spend Memorial Day in a place like D.C., where I could go to a military memorial site or even Arlington National Ceremony.  I'd rather have a place set aside specifically designed to make me reflect on the price paid to protect our country.

Now we are at a time when we've lost more U.S. citizens to COVID-19 than we have in some wars.  For example, roughly 58,000 soldiers died in Vietnam; we quickly approaching the 100,000 mark in this pandemic, and that's just U.S. deaths that we know about.

As I was thinking and researching this morning, I was astonished again at the amount of life lost in World War II:  400,000 U.S. soldiers dead.  The death rate around the world boggles the mind.  I predict at some point we will say the same about COVID-19.

It has been interesting to hear various leaders use war imagery to talk about how we're going to fight this new virus.  It's language that makes me wince.  An enemy comprised of humans might be easier than this virus, which will not respond to reason or to threats or to force.

But the same kinds of attitudes can lead us into deeper trouble with this virus--and we're already in pretty deep trouble.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war. We pray for those who mourn. We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten. We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil. God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this Memorial Day,we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

I share the dislike of war language. The metaphors are too easy, a mark of laziness in thinking, and become meaningless with overuse. It seems as though every public health issue - from smoking to drugs et al. - in which we employ the imagery of war has been a failure.

I've often gone to Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day. My father is buried there, on a hill from which the view to Washington is extraordinary. To see every grave with a small U.S. flag, each one placed exactly, a boot's length from the grave marker. . . to take in the number of graves, is to know how great a loss has been suffered. What's deeply saddening is to have watched, as I have each time I've gone, the green spaces increasingly marked with gravesites of the dead from Afghanistan and Iraq. And to look from my father's grave in one of the oldest sections of the cemetery toward D.C. and see the National Institute of Peace.