This will be a strange Memorial Day. It won’t really look or feel the same at all.
But that changes nothing. The spirit of the day will still remain, if only in our hearts.
Just as it has been doing for a couple months now, the COVID-19 pandemic is altering the way many communities will observe Memorial Day in 2020. A lot of them are canceling or modifying their traditional observances. Some will dispense with public programs and instead focus on virtual tributes, prayers, 21-gun salutes and other activities that satisfy distancing demands.
Thus, many of us will mostly be on our own to remember those who have fought and died for this country and for us.
Those memories are at the heart of each Memorial Day. It beats in every speech and prayer in all the programs held across the land. It rings out in the rifle volleys in places like Tabor and Crofton and Gayville. It sails and swirls amid the Avenue of Flags at Yankton’s Memorial Park (which will not be held this year, I’ve been told). It’s what stirs within us when we hear a lonely rendition of “Taps” played at a solemn moment around a war memorial, at a cemetery or in a Legion Hall.
It’s a shared experience, but this year, much of it won’t be shared physically. The coronavirus is sidelining many of those things. As such, we will mostly be sidelined, too.
That’s why each of us must look within ourselves this year to find that sense of appreciation for those who have defended us with their lives, from the days of the American Revolution to yesterday, wherever and whenever these sacrifices have been needed.
Of course, I also realize that, for too many people, Memorial Day will be just a day off. For them, the holiday has never really been about remembrance and reflection. It’s never sparked serious contemplation of soldiers and graveyards and the missing and the tears and the unimaginable things that had to be done in the name of a mightier good.
Oddly, this pandemic may actually help some of these people find a focus to honor the fallen soldiers, if even for a few spare moments.
They just need to look around.
The coronavirus has derailed much of our everyday life. So many things we once took for granted — shopping in crowded stores, going to movie theaters, attending school events, shaking hands, embracing friends, heading off to work, going to church, stepping out into public without feeling like you’re taking your life in your hands — have been ripped away from us. Perhaps it’s a little like living in an occupied land, isolated and defenseless against an invading force that is everywhere and into everything.
This scenario gives us a small, sour taste of what it is to live in fear and to live without, to exist in isolation and to ache for a distant triumph — as if we were at war. It comes with its own soldiers: front-line medical personnel who fiercely battle for our lives every single day. They, too, are fighting for all of us. They, too, are losing their lives for such a cause.
Perhaps this real-time example can help us better understand how essential it is to have those warriors who would risk themselves for our well-being and for a higher purpose. Maybe we can see it even when we don’t have organized programs guiding us through the steps.
The bottom line is, those who risk everything for us should be cherished. Always.
Even on a Memorial Day that’s missing the speeches and salutes, the sacrifices made by our soldiers stand as tall as ever. This year, we must embrace that fact on our own and, at the very least, consider that those soldiers died because they thought we deserved something better. We can surely give them a few thoughts in return.
Follow @kelly_hertz on Twitter.