The Flag at the End of the Street

I think too much.  I am convinced of it.  I know that my students would agree with me.  They really think that I over-analyze the literature that I teach…read…everything.  Heh, today, I was chatting with my husband about an audio book he is enjoying:  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  I immediately started talking about how McCarthy doesn’t use punctuation (which won’t be noticed in an audio book but it’s so cool when you are reading the book) and Pat responded that he just likes listening to the book because he is enjoying the story.  He doesn’t want to analyze it.

Oops.

Sorry.

So, the problem with being a person who really reads into the meaning of words, I have a tendency to pause and think before saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  It means something to me to say an oath of loyalty to a piece of cloth…the flag.

I can hear so many people out there reading this, their anger inflating like a hot air balloon.  Please forgive and trust me.  I’m not trying to be inflammatory.  I really am not.

Once more, in reading too much literature, I see character after character who threw down his or her morals and ran after a strip of cloth that was infused with meaning that may or may not have been there.  After watching plenty of documentaries about Nazi Germany, I saw how many people flocked to a broken square sitting in the background of a white and red.

I’m sorry, but I’m a bit cautious about falling in love and following, blindly, a flag.

But at the end of my street, where I turn left everyday to go home, a car dealership has unfurled a giant American flag.  And I love it.

Almost every day, as I drive home from work or the gym, I drive west and towards the sun that is steadily marching towards the horizon.  And as the sun is falling further and further from its zenith, it has a tendency to fall behind or at least brilliantly illuminate the flag as it curls and unfurls on the flagpole.

At my church, a member once explained the history and symbolic meaning behind the flag, the colors, and the iconography upon it.  So when I am sitting at the stoplight, waiting to turn onto the road, I have a tendency to stare at the undulating stripes and love the way that the wind’s hands will bunch up the fabric before running its fingers down the spines of the stripes.

This is when I truly feel the surging pride of my nationality.  I am proud when I am humbly sitting in my car with the local NPR station quietly playing classical music or the afternoon news program spilling out the local news.

Because as my attention is completely captivated by this flag, I am reminded, daily, of the sacrifices men and women have made to guarantee me my freedom.  In my classes, I continually try to encourage my students to see that the world exists and that the world is not like the zip code in which we live.  And outside of our zip code lives poverty, oppression, hostility, discrimination, and prejudices.  So as I watch the boxy constellation of fifty stars sitting as punctuation marks against the thirteen stripes that stand as thirteen sentences, thirteen statements, thirteen lines that dictate the “inalienable rights” of my freedom, I feel the pride that I see in others but can’t always experience.

Flags can be incredibly fascinating.  On the back of my car, I have a sticker bearing the Bavarian flag.  I love the Lebanese flag because of its cedar tree (those of you who know me will understand the significance).  I love the simplicity of the Australian flag which is ironic because I love the Brazilian flag because I am always trying to fully unite the circle in my mind.

It’s when I am sitting in my car and staring at the flag that my mind is flooded with the memories and lessons that have been taught to me by my father, by Dave Preston who is my Big Daddy, by other men and women in uniform who have taught my classes and me about the importance of defending our freedoms.  Because so long as I act almost apathetically towards our country and our Constitutional rights, then I have not fully earned the freedoms I have been given, not earned.  Because my birthright is not something I earned.  It is an inheritance from my parents.  And my father fought for his country, for his family, for me…his daughter…who hasn’t always been appreciative of the sacrifices he has made.

Sitting in my car and staring at that flag reminds me of the flags firemen flew over Ground Zero in the hours and then days after 9/11.  And I can’t sit in my car and stare at the flag flying over my street and think about New York or the Pentagon or Shanksville, PA and not remember the incredible surge of patriotism, real patriotism that surged through my veins when I realized the horrors of the terrorist attacks.

Because the terrorists didn’t just threaten me or my family.  They threatened the rights and freedoms of my six month, two day old son who was a beautiful baby and deserved to have a perfect world and not one fractured by hate.

In looking at the flag, I am no longer looking at a piece of cloth.  I am looking at a perpetual reminder of the beauty of the world.  At the beauty of freedom.

And I am moved.  Completely and utterly moved.

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6 thoughts on “The Flag at the End of the Street

  1. This article resonated with me. I have always felt fiercely loyal to my country, although I didn’t appreciate (more like totally took our freedoms for granted) what we have, until I lived for a short time in Spain, under the Franco regime. As an ESL teacher, I have my students stand for the pledge. I would show respect for the symbol of their country and expect them to do the same. All that being said, I’m reminded that “freedom for all” is not true today in many ways, for many people. When our Constitution was written, it was true for white men. So while the flag means many things to me, I do believe that I am lucky beyond belief to be living in the United States.

    • It has taken me a long time to realize and be thankful for the freedoms that are given to me because of living in America. Living in Germany on an Army base, I had more freedom than when I lived in DC right after Adam Walsh had been kidnapped. In my childish mind, I associated America with a lack of freedom because of my mother’s terror that I was going to be hurt. But, now thirty years later, I am learning to love this country, to feel proud in all that we have done. I am not going to say that I am proud of everything. American politicians, like the citizens, are human and have made regrettable mistakes. But, in the end, I am free to be the out-of-place person that I am and be able to express this without fear of violence.

      • We were never stationed in Germany, but I was born at Elemendorf AFB, Anchorage, Alaska. We were then transferred to the Pentagon. I was too little to understand anything outside of my little world. On my 6th birthday we moved from DC. But when I lived briefly in Spain with a Spanish family, I asked at the dinner table one night, “What is your opinion about Franco?” They almost had a heart attack that I would ask that question out loud. Everyone there was certain that their apartments were being bugged.

      • When I was a teenager, my parents and I moved back to Germany, right before the Berlin Wall fell. A couple of years later, I heard one woman’s story about being in her East German apartment and, thankfully, saw the electrodes the Stasi had put on her shower head so she could be electrocuted. I don’t know as much about the history of Spain under Franco, but I can understand, to a degree, what you are describing.

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