Its funny, getting older that is. Funny not as in a cat failing to stick a landing on a glass table top and unceremoniously taking a vase of flowers down with it. Instead it’s funny in a contemplative “I think I’ll have another Honey Rye and fire up the old laptop to write this down” kinda way. Time will get ya thinking, and nothing will get ya thinking more than unearthing relics from your past. Be warned though, if you’re not careful after all this reflection time you’ll end up with a recycle bin laden with empty bottles and a whole lot more questions than you did when you started. But good things too may come out of a good ole’ dredging of your life, like a trawler cruising the ocean, you may end up with a few unexpected catches in your net.
The other day, while packing up to move, we came across an epically enormous polyester American flag, the type you would see valiantly flying at VFW’s or small town middle schools. I am not one to advocate the superfluous use of grandiose adjectives, but in this case I feel at peace with the use of epic and enormous, at least in the context they were unfurled in. Measuring an easy 6 feet by 12 feet, the flag consumed more than half our living room and lay there ruffled like it was still riding the wind, like it had been on the pole it adorned outside of an unnamed primary school in northern Wisconsin, before it was, well, borrowed for an undisclosed period of time. I know that for some folks our there this amounts to an act of treason, or at least a crime belittling the sacrifice made my many of this country to protect that school with its naked flagpole. But be at ease if you are ruffled, it’s ok to feel that way. That’s the whole point: me, who at one time would have happily been complicit to such a crime now feels ya, for the most part.
That flag brought up the conversation of, how even though we live in a country that has many, many problems, at least we can express those problems. Are we politically corrupt? Sure. Does our democratic system languish at time? You bet. Have we been at war more years than not? I heard it on facebook so it must be true. Do half of us throw out enough food every day to feed the other half. Yup. Are we totally dependent on a transportation system that not only necessitates our involvement in other people’s wars but also hastens our shelf life in this planet? Up for debate for some, not for others. Do women still not make equal pay compared to men? Oh yeah. Do black women make even less than white women. It’s in the statistics. Is the tide rising without all the boats? Always has. But…
With all this going on, I look at that flag and feel that it is more than just a flag (contrived I know, I am still only a little way through the 6 pack). It’s the physical representation of a dream, the dream of conquest, the dream of colonization, the dream of wealth, the dream of a new beginning. It’s the dream of freedom, the promise that if you work hard you’ll get what you deserve (don’t ask how that’s working out); the manifesto of our inherent righteousness. It stands for the right to subjugate others on your quest to fulfill your own dreams and it is the freedom to be subjugated if it means a better future for your kids. It is the freedom to make bombs, but not have them dropped on us. It’s the freedom to vote for our government, then bitch about them when they prove as ineffective as, well as inefficient as they have proven to be.
When I was younger I felt otherwise, using the image of our nation as my protagonist, but not as much now as time has taken over the role of my greatest oppressor. I’m not sure I’d call how I feel patriotism, I still believe old Ed when he said a true patriot must be wiling to defend their country from their government and I’ll probably never be a “these colors don’t bleed” kinda guy. The sight of certain “America, F-Yeah!” iconography still makes me shudder, but the flag, a real flag, a fabric flag in person does move me a bit. There is weight to a flag just as there is with the printed word. A speech may be moving, but a book has the last immutable opinion, the last word. This may be a relic of the pre-internet age where if you had a set of encyclopedias at home growing up you had the world at your fingertips and an edge on anyone without them. When I talk to friends on a river fly fishing we exchange gossip, ideas and theories but print those same conversations and you have permanence, you have the establishment of norms and image, you have authority.
I guess that is the same for the flag; we all know magazines and books aren’t always right, but they do give us a sense of place, of purpose and of possibility, and I think that is why my relationship with this here flag has changed over the years, because I know it isn’t right, but it does provide me with a certain prospect of opportunity. It is was like growing up in the 80s, I couldn’t appreciate the music of that decade then, but now I fondly nod my head along to those obnoxiously saccharine and upbeat pop songs because I understand that world better and I see the place in time those songs existed in. It the same with our nation and it’s flag, they haven’t changed a lick, but I see them now in a truer light.
It was agreed the flag should be returned to the school it was borrowed from. No telling how that will go, but we did triangle fold it, we think, based on how we saw it done in the movies. So there is sits, triangle folded and sitting in a used Roundy’s plastic grocery bag.
The flag was returned to the school it was on loan from. It will replace the little flag that had been flying in it’s stead. There was little to no reaction from the school official who received it, much to the astonishment and disappointment all parties involved.