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Editorial | Putting personal freedom in perspective this Memorial Day

Public Memorial Day parades are cancelled in New York City; you won’t find any flag-waving crowds lining the streets to applaud the soldiers, living and dead, who fought in defense of our country. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

This Memorial Day weekend in New York City will be truly unique to our city’s experience, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public parades are cancelled; you won’t find any flag-waving crowds lining the streets to applaud the soldiers, living and dead, who fought in defense of our country.

Fleet Week, the proud tradition where our city welcomes the Armed Forces this time of year, has gone virtual. Yankee Stadium and Citi Field will sit quiet and unoccupied; they’ve yet to see a thrown pitch or swung bat this season.

City beaches are partially closed, with limits on bathers. Barbecues will have to be held in backyards and balconies rather than public parks — and with just handfuls of people.

For most New Yorkers, this celebration of Memorial Day will be very intimate and isolated compared to previous years. It helps to remember that we’re doing this to protect each other from a potentially deadly illness, but the fact that life isn’t yet back to normal hurts nonetheless.

Yet we go on. 

We will get beyond this crisis, as we have overcome previous crises before. And we can celebrate Memorial Day in two particularly helpful ways this year.

First, we should take time over the weekend to honor, in our own way, the sacrifices made to defend our freedom — with special emphasis on those soldiers who paid the ultimate price to do so. 

We suggest making a donation to a veterans’ organization like the USO, the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Legion or the Disabled American Veterans. Like many other nonprofits, they are struggling mightily during the downturn, and need all the help they can get.

The other thing we ought to do is be careful with the word freedom. 

A number of Americans have invoked that word while bemoaning the quarantine’s inconveniences resulting from state-ordered shutdowns.

Not being able to get a haircut or go to the gym isn’t tantamount to a violation of the freedom that so many American soldiers died to protect. To suggest otherwise cheapens the word, and dishonors the real sacrifices made to keep our country free through the generations.

Let us remember that our personal sacrifices today save the lives of our fellow Americans. We struggle now, but we will prevail in the end, and come out of this pandemic stronger than before. 

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