I was five years-old on September 11, 2001 when my mom picked me up early from school and we drove to Sherwood Island State Park. Standing on the shores of the Long Island Sound, we stared silently across the water and saw the smoke rising from lower Manhattan.
Today, Sherwood Island is home to Connecticut’s 9/11 memorial, a nine-foot, commemorative granite stone, etched with the names of fathers, mothers, siblings and friends who were lost nineteen years ago.
As a state and a community, we build public memorials to help us process the catastrophes we witness and the holes they leave in our hearts. They serve as reminders to subsequent generations that life is precious and subject to the most unexpected and uncommon disruptions.
This year, I am proposing legislation for the creation of a Connecticut Covid-19 memorial.
Covid-19, of course, is a different sort of tragedy. It has ended lives in lonely ICU units, forced families to say farewell over FaceTime and required healthcare workers to put their lives on the line to keep others safe. The necessities of social distancing has limited our ability to gather for funerals or memorial services. The chaos of 2020 — from learning how to educate students over Zoom to tracking the development and distribution of vaccines — have pulled attention away from the enormity of the loss that our state has experienced.
As we entered 2021, Connecticut surpassed 6,000 lives lost due to the virus: greater than the total number of state casualties from both world wars. Indeed, in the nearly 400 year arc of Connecticut’s history, it’s challenging to think of any equivalent concentration of strife or personal tragedy. The victims of this pandemic, their families, and the healthcare workers who served them in their final moments, deserve a permanent monument of remembrance.
This month, I will introduce a bill calling for the Connecticut Office of Public Arts to initiate a process for members of the public to submit proposals for a memorial. A committee of sculptors, architects, and landscapers would then review the submissions and select a fitting tribute. The end-goal will be a permanent, physical memorial for the victims of Covid-19 that will sit in one of our 139 state parks and forests.
A memorial is not going to end this pandemic or reverse its economic effects. On the list of 2021 legislative priorities, it falls below vaccine distribution, nursing home support, remote learning, and a host of immediate concerns that my colleagues and I will be grappling with in the next few months. But I believe it’s important, in the middle of this sad, strange time, for us to plan our memory of it.