March 14, 2000

 

Flag

written by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on National Public Radio, February 19, 2001
aired on WFAE, March 14, 2000

I saw an interesting rendition of the American Flag clothing ice skater Tara Lipinski during a recent television performance. I also saw it appliquÚd across a quilt in a museum exhibition. I've seen it printed on towels, patched on the back of a jean jacket, and tattooed on a bicep. But I sure haven't seen it hanging from many houses lately.

On President's Day I planted my dented flagpole in its holder and looked up and down my street. My flag had no companions. When I was a kid we hung our flag for every official holiday. Washington and Lincoln's birthday were the first of the year, followed by Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and finally, Veteran's Day. This was as routine to us as trick or treating on Halloween and buying a Christmas tree in December.

Why is Old Glory, the symbol of our collective patriotism, so rarely exhibited today? It could be that many Americans have never fought in a war, nor have their fathers, brothers, or children. Symbolism is most powerful in the face of adversity, and as a prosperous country in a peacetime economy; we have no need to remind outsiders that we stand united as a people. Perhaps people feel that hanging a flag is a political statement, and are too apathetic to bother. I suspect, however, that we have simply done a poor job of passing flag tradition between generations. Today homeowners are more prone to own a decorative banner sporting Winnie the Pooh than the Stars and Stripes.

The failure to display the American Flag does not diminish its power to agitate and unify. Congressional consideration of an amendment to outlaws flag burning incites the defense of the first amendment in one camp, and elicits fierce outbursts of patriotism in another. Burning the flag in protest remains the most defiant act an American can commit outside of treason.

Sadly, it seems we have relegated the American flag to public arenas and for private intent. It is used at political rallies to incur allegiance, by car dealerships to advertise, and at sporting events to claim physical superiority. It is flown over government buildings as a claim to power, and in courthouses as a reminder of justice.

There remain flag aficionados, those who know how to fold her correctly, who raise her to the top of the pole at night, and bring her down respectfully at dusk. These folks know when she should be flown at half-mast, and what to do with her during a storm. It has become an area of specialized, not general knowledge.

The flag is only a symbol, but much as I am disheartened that so few Americans vote, I am saddened to see my lone flag waving under a clear blue sky, without a friend in sight. For all of our diversity as a people, we are bound by a constitution and a government, that for all their faults, are the best on earth. Much as we honor our lovers on Valentine's Day, and our patents on Mother's and Father's Day, I wish we would honor our country, and her leaders and warriors, on the days so set aside.

Memorial Day is just around the corner. For many it will be just another day home from the office, or a day with no school. If a flag is worth fighting for, it should be worth hanging in memoriam. Certainly we owe our veterans this much.

~ Lynn Trenning

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