This will be a Memorial Day unlike any that Americans have known.
Ever since the official inception of the holiday on May 30, 1868, when the practice of decorating the graves of the fallen Union soldiers with flowers, wreaths, and flags officially became recognized by the order of General Logan at Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) has been a time for all Americans to come together to commemorate and honor those who made the Supreme Sacrifice to preserve our freedom.
When Memorial Day was moved to the fourth Monday of May starting in 1971, the three-day weekend also came to mark the official start of the summer season for Americans of all ages, who gathered for cookouts and other outdoor activities with friends and family.
But in this year of the coronavirus pandemic, all of the usual parades and festivities have been cancelled. With much of the nation still sheltering in place, gatherings of families and friends have been limited to the faux-reality of Zoom.
The pandemic also has brought another set of challenges to our nation, however. The stress we all are feeling, both from the threat of the virus itself and from the economic anxiety it has created, has brought into full view the many, deep fissures in our society which have been lurking beneath the surface for decades.
It is fair to say that America is as disunited as we ever have been since the end of the Civil War itself 155 years ago. This pandemic, rather than bringing us together to face and fight the common challenge of the coronavirus, is threatening to tear us apart and bring to an end the great American experiment.
In searching for appropriate words to capture this moment in which we find ourselves, the Gettysburg address that was delivered by President Abraham Lincoln on the site of the battlefield on November 19, 1863, rings most true, both in terms of honoring those who gave their lives in our nation’s wars and for healing the wounds created by the current pandemic crisis.
We hope our readers take a moment to absorb Lincoln’s words and reflect upon the meaning of Memorial Day in light of our current situation:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.