Opinion | Each White Flag: A Life Lost to Covid

Mourners from across the country gathered on
the National Mall to honor loved ones.

Mourners from across the
country gathered on the National
Mall to honor loved ones.

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By Jamie Meltzer

Mr. Meltzer is a documentary filmmaker.

In September 2021, more than 660,000 white flags were planted on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as part of a participatory art project by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg titled “In America: Remember.” It was not the first time the National Mall served as a memorial for those lost to a pandemic; in 1987 the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt had its first public display there.

Each white flag in Ms. Firstenberg’s project represented a life lost to Covid in the United States, adding up to a nearly incomprehensible number. Visitors were invited to personalize and dedicate flags to honor loved ones who had died. Some of those in attendance granted us permission to film with them. The result is the short documentary above, which bears witness to intimate moments of mourning and farewell.

Even as we were filming, more and more flags had to be added to reflect the continued loss of life. Walking through this expanding sea of flags, I was overwhelmed by the vastness of death and tragedy caused by the pandemic.

My hope is that through these moments of remembrance, we can empathize with the immensity of each loss. With close to one million lives now lost to Covid in the United States, it may be impossible to truly make sense of the vast impact of the pandemic. But perhaps we can at least see its waves in a new light.

Jamie Meltzer is a filmmaker and an associate professor of the M.F.A. program in documentary film at Stanford. He previously co-directed the Op-Doc “Huntsville Station.”

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