Monday is our national day of mourning. It is not a patriotic, political or recreational occasion. It is more important than that. It was invented as a commemoration rather than a celebration.
It used to be called Decoration Day. It was a day when women from the North and the South decorated the graves of their lost loves with poseys. It was a day for reflection. It was always sacred like the Sabbath. It became a way to stitch a riven nation back together again. As early as the spring of 1864, the year after Gettysburg, there are reports of Confederate widows decorating the graves of Union soldiers. In 1966, a Union General ordered the decoration of Confederate graves. We became a new nation through our shared sorrow.
Little towns in Massachusetts and Mississippi tragically discovered what they had in common. It was never merely widows, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, comrades and old friends who grieved. Unexpected death is much more than that.
Thomas Edward Lawrence, the diminutive archaeologist, war hero and diplomat who died at 46 in a motorcycle accident, wrote “An individual death, like a pebble dropped in water, might make but a brief hole; yet rings of sorrow widened out there from.” Every single death disturbs many lives. Most people used to know that without being told.
No one ever wrote that the 379 deaths in Cuba was a small price to pay for Guantanamo Bay or that the 4,234 soldiers who died in the Philippine Insurrection were a small price to pay for Subic Bay. Or, that not losing face in Southeast Asia was well worth 58,220 dead Americans. Or, that 116,516 deaths were a more than fair price to pay for victory over Germany in 1918. No one would have dared.
It is a bright, warm morning in Los Angeles and I am distracted by all that beckons me – the weekend: The dog eager to play, the beach, the tomato plants, the liquor I plan to drink, the ride I would like to take, the friends I will not see. It takes only seconds to look and see that this morning, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time on May 22, 2020, 95,213 people have died in the last 84 days. There should be 100,000 deaths by Monday.
Like most people who might read this, I didn’t know any of them. But, Monday is our national day of mourning.
Enjoy your dog, your beach, your ride, your garden, your drink, your friends and your barbecue.