I just put my white shirt in the washing machine, a reasonable place for something I wore daily for a week. The shirt has an eight-inch tear down its front. I tore it, in accordance with Jewish tradition, at the cemetery as we were getting ready to bury my father, and wore it for the week of mourning.
I’m not quite sure why I’m laundering it. Even if my sewing skills were greater than they are, I would not be planning to mend the shirt. I realize that simply discarding a piece of clothing, as I will do, is not an option that always existed. In days when each article of dress was acquired by diligently saving money, where three or four pieces of clothing were all anyone owned, the torn shirt of mourning was mended, pressed and put back into service. It served as a constant, visible reminder of how we piece lives back together after a loss, never quite the same as before but carrying on.
When my mother died sixteen years ago (that number shocks me as she is so present in my heart) I mourned, deeply, for her. I still miss her wisdom, laughter and love. The youngest of her family, she was the first of her five siblings to go. I found great comfort and security in talking to her sister and brothers as the years passed. This time around, my father was one of the last remaining members of his generation. Each year, there are fewer people to answer the questions raised by old photographs and memories, on both a personal and national level. They were people who would neither be ignorant nor confused or scornful about this week’s observation of Flag Day. With or without the visible reminder of a shirt, the reality of the loss of a generation is clearly evident.