(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers paid tribute Tuesday to the more than 676,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19, visiting a memorial on the National Mall that displays hundreds of thousands of small, white flags, one for each life lost.
“As we look at this work of art and see it fluttering in the breeze,” Pelosi said, “it really is an interpretation of the lives of these people waving to us to remember.”
The installation, called “In America: Remember,” is the second iteration of the art project. In fall 2020, Pelosi visited the first exhibit, which at that time consisted of more than 200,000 lives lost to the pandemic.
Since then, the death toll has more than tripled, and so has the number of flags. The death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed the estimated number of Americans who died in the 1918 influenza pandemic, topping 675,000 deaths on Monday.
The lawmakers walked silently among the rows of flags, trails that stretch more than 3.8 miles.
At times, Pelosi bent down to read the messages families and friends had written on the white rectangles.
“We look at these flags and we think of the family someone missing from the table at dinner, missing from the conversation,” she said, recalling one flag that stuck her which was dedicated to a grandfather that said, “We miss you.”
Pelosi, who is Catholic, said that she hopes faith and prayer can help not only grief, but also to bring an end to the pandemic.
“I know that many of these people are people of faith and they believe that their message is being received and that by receiving that message — that not only our prayers but the prayers of the departed — will also bring solution to all of this,” she said.
She said the flags installation reminded her of the AIDS Quilt, which was displayed on the National Mall in 1987, and how such tributes can be so important.
“Nothing could be as eloquent as a manifestation of sadness that art,” Pelosi said. “We all see it as we do, but all of us grieve together, are inspired together and renew our pledge to remember … and in remembering to make sure that the number doesn’t grow.”
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