Even before the year of Covid-19, Memorial Day had lost its official meaning for most of us. The federal holiday, once called Decoration Day and celebrated on May 30 but now on the last Monday of May, was instituted for the remembrance and the honoring of those who died while in America’s military. (Veterans’ Day on November 11 commemorates all those who served in the military.) In recent years, a few official speeches along those lines have been given somewhere (I missed Trump’s speech—surely it was at least as eloquent as his others). Some of our older generations maintain a tradition of visiting the graves of loved ones, but this somber holiday now seems primarily celebrated as the unofficial beginning of summer and, for smaller fry, the end or near-end of the school year. For few of us, is it a time for solemn reflection about the sacrifices of others but instead about the joys of the beach, barbecues, and the freedom from homework.
But what is Memorial Day this year at a time when, for many of us, every day seems the same? Will it still be joyful for the schoolkids whose classes were suspended? I suppose they may be happy that online assignments will soon end (and perhaps their parents even more so). But surely there will not be the same excitement and relief found when running out of the school door on the last day of school with friends, whooping in the playground and chattering about the planned summer activities. With cheerleading camps and Little Leagues closed around the country, any such chatter this year may be sparse and forlorn.
Many barbecues normally held on Memorial Day have been cancelled, and for those who maintain social distancing, they will be much different even if they are held. Memorial Day normally heralds beach time, but that, too, will be a different experience for many of us. This is not a normal Memorial Day.
But even if traditional Memorial Day activities are curtailed, we should spend at least some of our time doing what we should always do on this holiday—remember and honor those who died while in the military. And we should go further and think about the 100,000 Americans who have already died from Covid-19 and about the tens of thousands who will die in the coming summer months. Let’s remember and honor all the essential workers providing healthcare, making deliveries, working in food stores and meat-packing plants, and the like. Many of them have gotten sick and some have died serving us. A person does not have to die on a battlefield to be a hero. And let’s remember all those who are suffering as a result of the pandemic, including those who have lost their jobs and those who do not have enough to eat in this richest country in the world.
We should have more time on our hands than on past Memorial Days. Let’s use some of that time by honoring and remembering.