Over this past Memorial Day weekend, I spent time ruminating about a trip my wife and I took two years ago to France, and our visit to Omaha Beach during the 75th year celebration of D-Day. We spent a good part of a day walking through the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial–it was sobering to say the least. It is a stark reminder about the cost of freedom; about commitment and sacrifice for a greater good. These thoughts led me to contemplate the nearly 600,000 who died this past year from the Covid-19 coronavirus–more individuals than the United States lost in all wars from World War I to present day. This is another staggering, sobering fact; especially knowing that a large percentage of these individuals didn’t have to die.
Losing a loved one, whether by war or disease, hurts. All that remains are memories; memories of joys, laughter, experiences, good times and bad times. It is good that we take time to remember, to have a Memorial Day. But, this will never fill the void left by death. I fear that the death of our nation looms close by.
It seems like ages ago, not just a year ago, when we were all hunkering down in isolation, fear, and uncertainty while the political divide bizarrely grew. The voices who proclaimed that the pandemic was a ruse proved to be empty, hollow and baseless; causing harm and no good thing. There we were as a nation facing a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of our citizenry and to our economy. And yet, there was no unity or coalescence around finding a solution, or even marginally caring about other people.
By contrast, when WWII broke out, Americans rallied to the cause, joined arm-in-arm, and did whatever it took to defeat evil. This past year feels like we did more to promote evil than banish it!
At this time last year, America was reeling from the death of a black man at the hands of a law enforcement officer. The “Black Lives Matter” movement was erupting across our nation, as was extreme opposition by white racist groups. It certainly brought back memories to me of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the Watts riots, Montgomery, Martin Luther King Jr. and the likes. It seemed that 60 years of progress was an illusion as our racist divide raised its ugly head once again. Critical Race Theory proved to be true.
I loathe our election cycles, especially presidential. Historically, presidential elections have always been contentious, as it seems to be the nature of the beast. Even so, there used to be a degree of civility, professionalism and respect amongst the parties which is now gone. This past election set a new low bar for dishonesty, misinformation, disrespect and corruption. We now have a major political party with no moral code, no concern for the common good of the country, and a willingness to do whatever it takes--no matter how debased, vile, or dishonest--to stay in power.
Enduring a bitter election is a challenge. Unbelievably though, we actually had a President unwilling to accept defeat but willing to promulgate a blatant lie that his reelection was “stolen” with absolutely no evidence in support thereof. Politics aside, what does this say about the condition of our society? In the past 80 or so years, the moral fabric, collective consciousness, integrity, and spirit of America has disintegrated, almost vanished. In fact, since 9/11/2001 when we rallied to stop an evil terrorist threat, “We the People” has devolved into meaningless words on a page; no longer a resounding characterization of the United States of America.
Losing nearly 600,000 Americans in a pandemic is unfathomable, but it pales in comparison to nearly losing our democracy to insurrection and tyranny at the behest of a vanquished leader. Not since the Civil War has our nation been so threatened and imperiled. Our nation’s capital was besieged, lives were lost while insurrectionists stormed the halls seeking to assassinate congressional leaders, even the Vice President. As unbelievable and unimaginable as this might be, we have a political party that seems to think it is okay, and refuses to do anything to stop this kind of evil from perpetrating itself upon us again.
As I think about those 10,000 lives that rest in the ground at Normandy, or the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have given their lives for the peace, sanctity and security of our country, I wonder what their thoughts would be about this past year. Is this what they died for? Enmity, racism, polarization, violence, and outright hatred coupled with overt dishonesty and moral decay is certainly not what I learned to be the American Dream and Idea. And I am sure they would agree.
Those of you who have followed my writing for any length of time know that I am a very upbeat, encouraging person; always trying to put a positive spin on life whenever I can. But, this past year has left me feeling numb. I want to wake up and leave this nightmare, hoping it’s just a dream. But it’s not! America really is at a crossroads.
Do we embrace our unique experiment in democracy, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity...” holding strongly to the precious words in our Declaration of Independence, “We believe these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”?
Or, do we let our democracy and collective wellbeing implode into a vacuum created by self-centered, shortsighted autocrats blinded by their own lust for power?
Memorial Day always marks the beginning of summer, a time of fruitfulness and growth necessary for bountiful harvest. Let us never forget that we “reap what we sow.” Unlike any other time in US history, there are unique, critical decisions to be made that will determine our course in history and what our ultimate harvest will be. I hope we choose well!