After a year in which we all seemed at war with an invisible enemy, we might have a firmer grasp of what Memorial Day means.
For more than a year, Americans have experienced hardship and sacrifice and deprivation, some of the same burdens our fighting men and women have shouldered since the birth of this country.
When the pandemic emerged in 2020, its insidious impact grew day by day, week by week.
Coronavirus cases topped 60,000 by April of that year, surpassing the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War
Many of the Americans who fought in that war were part of the demographic most cruelly hit by the virus; 90 percent of the victims were 50 or older.
By December, the death toll hit 300,000 in the U.S., exceeding heart disease as the leading cause of death in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These were our friends and loved ones, and from a distance, we saw them wither and die in isolation, their bodies and minds wracked by a force that seemed almost militaristic.
We should remember that today, Memorial Day. We should remember the hardships we faced — and continue to face — because these are the hardships our brave men and women have faced for centuries.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be how to empathize for people we have never met and are never likely to meet.
This includes our soldiers, people who face death to save us from facing death.
With millions of Americans fully vaccinated, the daily average of COVID-19 cases has steadily fallen.
The decline has been dramatic, but it has not faded, not yet, and the tragedy it has wrought should remind us of the tragedies our brave fighting men and women have faced since 1776.
“Americans are scared, and I lived with that myself,” Coleen Bowman, whose husband died of cancer after serving in Iraq in 2013, told CNN last year.
Bowman was referring to COVID-19, and to the parallel she saw between the pandemic and war. The similarities, she said, were striking, because she had experienced the impact of both — an impact so stark and dramatic that she knew people, in both instances, who mourned before a friend or loved one had died. It was if they were trying to pre-empt the sorrow they knew was coming.
“There’s a constant fear that the worst is inevitable, and this anticipatory grief, well, that’s what I felt when my husband went off to war,” she said, “and that’s what I’m seeing in my neighbors today.”
So, on this Memorial Day, let us salute the men and women who have saluted us through their courage and sacrifice — our brave soldiers.
And as we do that, let us salute them with extra love and vigor, because the pandemic has given us a window into what they have faced.
Remember, Memorial Day is about us, all of us, those who have died and those who live because of the sacrifice our heroes have made.
“Without memory, there is no culture,” Elie Wiesel, the great Nobel Prize laureate, once said. “Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
More than 1 million Americans have died in battle throughout our history, and roughly 600,000 have died during the pandemic, almost 4,000 of them health care workers.
In war, and in this pandemic, each loss is incalculable. So let us honor both today, our soldiers and our health care workers; we are here because they are not.