The coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, or whatever you want to call this horrific plague, has taken Memorial Day away from us. Jobs, school, entertainment, love, and life itself – these are the many qualities of life this damn thing stole from us. On this day it deeply hurts many people because it is a day that we honor those who lost their lives in service of this country, and it feels like it can’t be done in a proper way this year.
A year ago, we had vibrant parades filled with pageantry and music, honoring those brave men and women who died for their country. Now, we are forced to have virtual ceremonies. A few places in the greater New York area are holding car parades – but social distancing is expected of the spectators, making this a shadow of what it used to be.
In past parades there were always vehicles that were in parades. This allowed older veterans to participate, to wave to the crowd, and be a part of the event. This sort of elevated them and put a spotlight on them. But the school marching bands, the Boy and Girl Scouts, organizations, and businesses cannot march as they used to do, limiting participation and enjoyment.
Whatever way it is done is compromised now and, while I still think it is better to do something than nothing, it is not the same, and sometimes it feels like nothing is ever going to be the same.
Yesterday, beaches across the country were packed with people – many not social distancing or wearing masks. Bars in New York City were open for drinks to go (although Mayor de Blasio said police would shut them down), and people socialized outside these establishments, some without masks. I kind of understand that because it is hard to sip your drink with one on, but maybe people are getting a little too close to people who are not in their immediate family.
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and people who have been cooped up since the middle of March are starting to break. What has been evident so far this weekend is that many people are not worrying about any guidelines and trying to have a good time. Hopefully, this doesn’t come back to haunt them.
In my family’s case, we will watch the car parade – just as we have watched the real parade in the past. Later on, we will not be having our usual big family barbecue, but our immediate family will cookout and eat outside and play some music, staying safe in the process.
I will talk – as I do every year – about the brave people in our family who served in the military. My children’s great grandfathers, grandfathers, uncles, and cousins who fought in wars from the Spanish American War to Afghanistan. Thankfully – in some kind of miracle – all of them came home.
I will remind the kids that my father – whom they lovingly called Papa – was wounded in World War II, and he was considered a disabled American veteran. Unfortunately, he knew friends who never made it home, and he was always grateful that he survived to have a full life, a family, and career.
That’s the saddest part of Memorial Day for me. All the markers in every American military cemetery are not just resting places of American heroes – it is a reminder that those people had stories and people who loved them. They are people who didn’t get to come home, to maybe become scientists or doctors or police officers or engineers, and do something amazing to help society. They also didn’t have a chance to have children who maybe grew up to change the world.
So, this Memorial Day, no matter how compromised it might be, take the time to celebrate the holiday by remembering those who served. Think about all those lost in order for us to continue to live freely in the country that they died for.
What we owe them can never be paid, but they didn’t go into the service for compensation. They did it for love of their country and the people whom they loved. In honoring them, let us never forget them and what they did for all of us.