It made the telltale but somewhat unpredictable snap of a dry towel on the wind at the mercy of direction, wind speed, and obstacles.
Snap, it did, to remind one of its weight and presence.
And to place it hand-over-careful-hand to its esteemed position at the top of the pole was an honor for the ‘fortunate’ few. Fortunate but chosen because they had so little else. Less money. No lunch. No box of pristine Crayola’s with names like razzmatazz and denim. A lost parent. More disability. An honor, it was, to hoist it high with the help of the elementary school janitor in his blue overalls that smelled of bleach and safety; a tousle on the head for a job well done in a time when touching was okay. In a time when the less fortunate were seen. In a peaceful time ‘before’, this might very well be the highlight of a year.
Its colors meant a summer full of comfort things like warmth, snow cones, and sparklers; followed by new baby doll pajamas and Johnson’s shampoo. And there was nothing more loved than simple hand sewn red summer shorts with a reversible red, white and blue tank top draped over gangly bodies that couldn’t even conceive of a bra yet; or the future that was coming.
The Stars and Stripes began each day of learning accompanied by the Pledge of Allegiance at a time when people were not afraid to say God or to appreciate and acknowledge that the word simply meant something bigger, something joining, something good. And it started each day of recreation at the ball fields with the National Anthem played on cracked vinyl. Back then the word neighbor meant something, too. It was a connection with the stranger on the bleachers who just removed his baseball cap as you did although you had never spoken; and to everyone else who also turned to revere it with dignity in whatever way they felt they should.
People understood that the name Old Glory was an earned one and not to be taken lightly.
People understood that both the stars and the stripes meant something. The stripes being the 13 colonies that could conceive of democracy and freedom. And the stars, their children.
Back then, when life was simple, I could not imagine a time when the sight of the American flag would raise a seed of doubt about the person holding it…
Does s/he honor the less fortunate?
Does s/he know what this flag represents?
Can s/he remember dignity?
Is s/he family?
Am I safe?
Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.
And in the last two years I have come to fear most of all the moment of not knowing which is which.
For those who carry the same confusion and despairing that I do today as I miss the comfort of Old Glory, both the flag and the feeling, I implore you to remember that our National Anthem has more than one stanza:
On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
I haven’t lost hope. Rather, I have gained responsibility and determination. And although the Star-Spangled Banner plays in my head today in minor key I find it oddly comforting and hauntingly beautiful. It sounds more urgent this way ~ as it should. And this second stanza speaks the truth of what is to come.