When an American flag becomes a symbol of what’s wrong in America these days.
My next-door neighbor flies an American flag on a tall pole in the front yard and truly believes she’s being patriotic. But there’s a problem. Her flag is in terrible shape. It’s been flown months past the point of tatters, to where it is literally falling apart, and right now it’s all bound up around the pole.
My neighbors don’t have a lot of time, energy or money for yard work, so I’m used to seeing things neglected on their side of the fence. Can’t stay on top of the blackberries? I get it, it’s a nasty scratchy job. Big tree in front yard is dying? I get it, tree removal is expensive. Dead cars in the side yard? I understand, auto repair is expensive. The big, costly, time-consuming chores….I get it.
But the flag is a little thing. And it’s a special thing. Flags aren’t expensive. It isn’t hard, and doesn’t take long, to unloop the rope and replace the ratty flag with a new one. If you’re going to fly an American flag, do it right and show some respect. My readers might accuse me of being judgmental, and maybe I am, but I’m not the only one who feels the flag shouldn’t be treated this way—hence the flag code.
For me, the tattered flag teaches this lesson about respect: it means honoring someone or something on its own terms, not on yours. It doesn’t mean doing the right thing only until it becomes inconvenient; it means doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
One might say the generous thing to do would be to buy my neighbor a flag and install it myself. But there is another kind of respect to consider: self-respect. For years, I’ve beaten back their weeds and blackberries; that’s my contribution. Taking on their flag too will only suck me into an equally endless cycle of enabling and frustration, and I won’t do that to myself. I can’t fix everyone and everything.
My neighbor’s tattered flag has come to seem like a symbol of these very trying and divisive times to me. Lots of posturing and flag-waving, but an incomplete understanding of the kind of caring, respect and commitment that is needed to be a stand-up American. I’m tired of the pandemic; I’m tired of the politics. I can’t provide all the optimism myself. I really want my neighbors to stand up on their own. Or get up on the ladder and replace the damn flag.