Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Patriotically Impaired

By Amy Platon
Just after 911 I polled some people for an article I was doing. I didn’t publish it back then, because, well you’ll see.

“I don’t have a flag.”

It struck me off guard. Because in a sea to shining sea of responses, I was getting used to people nearly reciting The Pledge of Allegiance when I asked, “What does the American flag mean to you?” But here was an American man, living in Washington DC no less, telling me he did not have a flag. “Why?”

“I don’t need to wrap myself in the American flag to show my love for my country. Don’t misunderstand me, I support our leadership but the flag, it’s starting to take on the feel of a corporate logo rather than a national symbol.”

The wind picked up. I looked around at the hazy clouded skyline at huge billowing flags on flagpoles, tiny stick flags that flickered on passing cars, and others that draped from buildings barely hanging on. They were begging me to believe in them, any one of them.

The man’s honesty continued. “My emotions are mixed and what I should feel for that flag comes and goes.”

A few years later I looked again at our country’s skyline. That flag I saw hanging was exhausted and battered. It was desensitized, the meaning lost. But we grasped to retrieve it. We propped it up on poles and hoped to give it life again. We blew into it to prove to ourselves it still worked. We taped it, nailed it, stretched it, pinned it, all to say, “See it works. It works!”

Don’t get me wrong, I know the flag we were trying to achieve:

- “I’m in tower one. There’s been an explosion. We’re gonna try and leave. I love you.”
A flag is raised.

- “Ladies and gentlemen go back up stairs. You’re safer there.”
A flag is raised.

- “No ma’am I don’t know what caused the explosion, but it has been contained. Do not use the elevator!”
A flag is raised.

- “Me and two other guys are going to try and stop them. I love you.”
A flag is raised.

Soot blankets everything and everyone. But among the collapsed buildings, gray steel, gray sky, gray ash, a flag is raised.

Even though this symbol, brings us to our knees at half staff, lifts us up in a national crisis, pushes us back as it symbolizes suppression for some Americans, and propels us forward as we defend our right to feel safe in our own country, in that moment a burst of red, white and blue was exactly what this nation needed to see. It evoked emotion from a pure place within us.

It could have been preserved, but then there was that issue of terrorism. Anger descended on us. The need to see only red consumed us. And with our flag displayed like a Superman logo, our government pushed itself through a confused crowd and herded the troops.

Now, we look back at an empty skyline, brush off the tears, and forge on. Our car-mounted flags are long unraveled from the turbulent wind.

I am from that quiet generation, the one that doesn’t speak up unless we’re sure about the answer.

I’m hesitant to say this, but I too didn’t have a flag. I think it’s because I don’t necessarily want to be defined as an American, but rather recognized as a human being and resident of this world. Perhaps that would give my life value to those in other countries. The American flag became for me, a symbol of war. Then I wonder what will our flag mean to us in the future? How will my children see it? Can it evolve? Should it?

So the ruble is gone, and so are the flags. Which has me thinking maybe others are as torn as I am.

But there is a breeze on the horizon. I can feel it. I’m almost ready to fly a flag. But if there were any statement I feel compelled to make it would be to fly a new flag, one that represents us all.

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