Washington COVID-19 memorial honors those who we lost

As their new administration prepared to take over power in the White House the next day, the memorial service symbolized Biden and Harris paying tribute to the pandemic’s fallen victims, as well as preparing to take on a challenging four years.


Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden and Vice President Harris, along with their spouses, First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, honor the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s been over a year since the COVID-19 virus first arrived on American soil. Let that sink in.

  Over the past twelve months, the world has endured one of the most widespread catastrophes in recent memory, with over two million confirmed deaths worldwide. 414,000 of those deaths, or 20%, came from the United States.

  We’re in a period of tremendous loss, as people all across the nation have lost their loved ones. For many, this has been the darkest time in their lives. But whenever tragedy strikes, we find solace in our remembrance of the fallen.

  On the eve of their inauguration, President Biden and Vice President Harris took part in a stirring memorial for the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

  The ceremony began with Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Harris, and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff walking under the twilight sky to the site, which was placed between the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool. Behind them, columns of unlit lights adorned each side of the pool. Then, Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington D.C, began the service with a prayer.

  “May our prayer this evening serve as a small expression of our national desire to comfort and strengthen those who have endured the loss of a loved one to this pandemic,” he said.

  Gregory’s opening prayer represents a number of things to our nation. It represents the healing that fills someone with hope, regardless of their prior heartbreak, and it also showcases the progress that has been made to shatter the barriers of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and others that exist in our world. Gregory is the first ever African-American cardinal, and Biden is just the second Catholic president following John F. Kennedy.

  Then, Vice President Harris spoke briefly with a call for wisdom and togetherness, amidst the current world circumstances.

  “Tonight, we grieve and begin healing, together…and my abiding hope, my abiding prayer, is that we emerge from this ordeal with a new wisdom; to cherish simple moments; to imagine new possibilities, and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another,” she said.

  Next, Harris introduced the first of two musical performances, Lori Marie Key, who is a nurse at St. Mary Mercy Livonia Hospital in the Detroit suburbs. While working in the COVID-19 unit at her hospital, Key enjoys singing, which brightens the patients’ moods and gives them hope for recovery. At the memorial, she performed a soulful rendition of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

  Her passionate vocals really moved me, and I could tell that the words she sang, she sang from the heart. With personal experience from perhaps thousands of patients affected by the virus, Key brought forth the kind of raw emotion that only a frontline worker can offer.

  President Biden was the final speaker of the night, and his address brought our nation together.

  “To heal, we must remember, and it’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal,” he said.

  Simple yet beautiful, these words will stick with me not just throughout the rest of the pandemic, but long after the curtains close on this moment in time.

  Now, it’s time for the memorial’s shining moment.

  “Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection, and remember all whom we lost,” Biden said.

  In a stirring show of beauty, the gray pillars along the sides of the pool all illuminated, rippling all the way to the Washington Monument. Then, in an iconic shot, the Presidential and Vice Presidential couples, along with Cardinal Gregory, gazed out across the symbolic scenery. Accompanied by a performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” by gospel singer Yolanda Adams, this was a very climactic moment in the story of COVID-19.

  As their new administration prepared to take over power in the White House the next day, the image symbolized Biden and Harris paying tribute to the pandemic’s fallen victims, as well as preparing to take on a challenging four years.

  While countless barriers, both physical and societal, have divided us, the Biden administration has offered hope that our country will heal, and come out even stronger on the other side. Through a process of remembrance and restoration, the United States of America will unite once again.