Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. It is a time to remember the friends and neighbors — those we knew and those we never met — who were lost to war. You can argue about the justness of the cause, but the sacrifice was real, regardless.
I was in the Army in the late 1960s, during the height of the Vietnam War. It was only through chance and luck that I was sent to Germany instead of into the maelstrom of Vietnam. It was a time of the draft, and many had little choice. Most of the men I worked with had been drafted. Not everyone had a father who was rich enough and corrupt enough to get them out of the draft. I had one friend who was told by a judge that it was either jail or the Army. He chose the Army and continued to wonder if he’d made a mistake.
I love the movies of the 1930s and 1940s. A lot of them are silly. Some are really hokey. But many of them deal with community and integrity and honor — concepts we don’t hear much about these days. There are many honorable people in this world, but there are also too many who don’t seem to understand the concept.
Honor isn’t just about serving your country. It’s about simple things, too: Be honest in your dealings with others. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you. Help others. Be considerate. Wear a damn mask if for no other reason than as a sign that you care for the well-being of others.
Memorial Day in this country is also the first party of the summer. It is a time for backyard barbecues, for going to the beach, for getting together with others. Summer is here and the livin’ is easy. Only this year the livin’ isn’t easy. The New York Times published the names of 1,000 people who died of the virus in this country. The list covered the whole front page. And the list was only 1% — one one-hundredth — of the toll so far.
This year there will be no stadiums full of people watching baseball, but things are opening up. Some places are being careful how they open while others are just opening anyway. The president said the churches should open and then went off to play golf. We know more now than we did about how the virus is passed from one person to the next. The first time Andrea and I went to pick up groceries, we left them in the car overnight before bringing them into the house. But almost all of the contagion is person-to-person — droplets from talking, coughing, sneezing, singing, breathing. Crowded indoor spaces (for example, churches) are good for spreading the virus. You’re safer on the golf course.
Andrea and I have begun talking about how we want to go forward. This shutdown has offered an opportunity to step back and look at what we are doing. Do we want to fall back into the same busy-ness? During this time we have had much less contact with those we live near and more contact — through Zoom, primarily — with those far away that we usually see only rarely. We have fewer appointments and activities on our schedules. How many of those do we want to resume? We haven’t come to any conclusions yet, but it is a hopeful sign that we can begin thinking about the future instead of just hiding from the present.
Be careful out there.