One of the most powerful memorials on the Mall of Washington, D.C. is the Vietnam Memorial. No matter how many times I start that walk dipping into the valley as the names add up on the shiny black surface beside me, I feel an overwhelming sense of grief. All those lives lost. All the potential of over 75,000 soldiers gone forever.
Yesterday, we officially passed the loss of over 150,000 men, women and children in a little over five months. How do we even imagine this enormous loss in such a brief span of time?
Two Vietnam Memorials, names etched so we can see and remember all the lives, of all ages. If only we could envision two such memorial walls will be enough to chronicle this loss.
Instead we have already begun etching the names on a third such memorial. And that one might already be filled if we were to add the unnamed and uncounted from our nursing homes, prisons, food workers, detention centers, and those so afraid and poor they are dying at home.
Someday, we will need to build this memorial. We will need to move beyond the numbers which are overwhelming and make sure we name the names. This is a human catastrophe, and it isn’t over. The virus came. It was going to be highly contagious and lethal. It didn’t have to be this contagious or this broadly lethal. The virus is the disease, our failed response has been a totally unnecessary accelerant.
When we finally build our collective memorial to the victims of this virus, we must be honest about the social and co-morbidities of poverty, racism, income inequality, a fractured healthcare system, and egregious government corruption, greed and incompetence that made our Great Mortality so much worse than it had to be.
Meanwhile, in our minds, we walk into the dip, a smooth reflecting wall beside us, as names, ages and dates, record the names of the fallen. We bow our heads and pray for them, and ourselves. As we locate the names of friends and loved ones, we are clear on one thing: This is not, nor was it ever, a hoax.
Rev. Elaine Silverstrim