By MARINA WATERS
When Marat Jean Moore, the organizer of the COVID-19 memorial on Spring Street in Jonesborough, wakes up, she knows she’ll have more flags to plant in honor of the lives lost in the Northeast Tennessee region to the COVID-19 virus.
“Every day I read the numbers,” Moore said. “I noticed as November got started that they really skyrocketed. I felt powerless, distressed and numb by the numbers. Then I kept thinking, ‘These are people. People aren’t numbers. Every person has a family, friends and brought gifts into this life and that needs to be honored.’”
In order to honor those lives, Moore sets a colored flag in the ground along with a prayer for each life lost.
“The thought is that every human life is vibrant, that we’re all unique and that it’s also beautiful colors in thinking about so many good people we’ve lost,” Moore said. “It seemed very fitting to do flags of different colors.”
She said on Nov. 22, she planted 380 flags. By Wednesday, Dec. 9, 488 flags had been placed and by Tuesday, Dec.15, the number reached 533.
“We just need to wake up,” Moore said. “It’s just getting worse and worse.”
The flags represent more than just lives that have ended — they also represent local grieving families who are missing these people in their communities.
“I’m also trying to collect the obituaries so I know a bit about the people’s lives who are represented in this memorial,” Moore said. “I was really wanting to get a sense of their story.”
Moore said she got the idea for the memorial from an artist in Washington D.C. who started a similar project. After emailing with the artist and receiving a few pointers, Moore felt the project would help make the climbing COVID-19 cases in the Northeast Tennessee region more real to those passing through Spring Street.
“I wanted to make it visible and real,” Moore said. “I felt that people aren’t really seeing this enough in their own lives. They read it, but it’s hard to grasp.”
Those lost to the virus aren’t the only ones honored through the memorial.
Moore and volunteers, like former nurse practitioner Karen Welch and Jonesborough resident Pauline Douglas, have also thought a lot about the healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. That’s why the white flags spreading through the hillside next to the colored flags symbolize the healthcare teams that fought to save each life lost in the region to COVID-19.
“We wanted to put them a little separate as guardians on the hill,” Moore said, “to honor these guardians and nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers who took care of all of these people and tried to save them.”
For Douglas, she also hopes the memorial is a reminder to folks that healthcare workers are taking on more responsibility as COVID-19 numbers keep increasing.
“We are all fatigued from this and to think (those in healthcare) are working on this day in and day out,” Douglas said, “then they see people not being careful and knowing it’s not slowing down. We need to take care of ourselves, but we need to take care of them.”
Moore said after talking with a representative at Johnson City Medical Center, she has urged those who want to do something for healthcare workers to consider offering gift cards and check out local efforts to lift their spirits during the pandemic.
“One thing is gift cards for Chick-Fil-A,” Moore said. “A lot of nurses go out and buy food. Then there is a Facebook page called “Tri-Cities Be a Good Human.” They are doing gift packages for nurses and other healthcare workers. I want to get the word out about that.”
Moore said the memorial was designed to be a contemplative space.
“People are stopping and slowing down,” Moore said. “There is a lot of commuter traffic cutting through to 11-E. There are people who get out and take pictures. There are people who come to talk to me from their car if I’m out there. The intention is that it be a contemplative space. And it will stay up through the winter until we know we’ve seen the other side of this.”
Moore is also hoping the colored and white flags inspire something more than sadness to passersby — she mostly hopes people see the flags as a sign to take action and precautions during the days of COVID-19.
“My great hope is that they take it seriously and that they know that we are in such a serious period,” Moore said. “Everyone is vulnerable. If they don’t mask up, and I mean really mask up, it is endangering everyone. I just hope they take the protective measures necessary to help all of us and particularly the healthcare people who are facing such trauma. That is my hope.”