All for a Flag

Watch me paint this flag on Tybee Island, Georgia

in one minute (time lapse)

This is a special roadside American flag on the only way to/from Tybee Island. It was saved from flood waters by police officers after Hurricane Irma, on the anniversary of 9/11 known as Patriots Day. The flag, attached to driftwood, had been a familiar landmark on that stretch of Highway 80 since the 1980’s. The officers knew that evacuees returning home after Hurricane Irma would find their beloved flag to be a comforting sight. They were especially grateful to residents who took care of the weary officers with coffee and encouragement, while first responders were working 12 hour shifts before and after the storm."
- from the book "50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

All that for a flag? Why would the police officers go through so much trouble to rescue a piece of cloth? Why would anyone risk their safety for a flag? Why would anyone die for a flag? Asking this question will yield many different answers. It depends heavily on who you ask, and what that person is feeling at that particular point in time.

A flag usually stands for something- an organization, a religion, a political party, a mission or cause, a town, a state, a nation, a global entity, or a military unit. But that’s just what the flag literally represents. What it means to individual persons can be much harder to define. 

Often, the feelings attached to a particular flag are strongly rooted by things that may have little attachment to the official meaning of that flag. If the organization that is represented by a flag operates with levels of secrecy, corruption, or even elements of pure evil, does the flag now mean those things? That’s what critics, protesters, and competitors/enemies of that organization say. But those who live under these flags likely believe that the corrupt elements don’t represent them; either by the flag or in any other manner.

When my dad died, they gave Mom a folded flag. He served two tours in the Vietnam War and got cancer when he was in his 20s. He died from it at age 37. He was not there when I was born, as he was overseas and didn’t learn of my birth until three days later. He was not there when I grew up, as he was dead. The folded flag was an acknowledgement of his sacrifice.

When our flag is protested against, trampled, or burned, I feel deeply offended. The flag is a memorial symbol to many of us. There is no respect for that, and yet we are meant to respect the causes that supposedly justify such malice and disrespect? How is it privileged to have no father? It is not. I owe no one anything, and they owe me nothing. But when they disrespect me in acts of hatred and destruction, I will feel something. It is my right to feel authentic emotions. I will never be disloyal to the memory of my father. No cause can sway me.

As people study wars for profit and evil reasons, nothing will change the truth of what was in the hearts of the young men who served. My father believed that they were fighting against communism, tyranny, and dangers to the people they loved at home, and to the human race worldwide. He was intensely loyal to religious, creative, and vocational freedom for all people, regardless of country of origin, race, culture, or gender. He saw government oppression as a big threat, and he therefore believed that serving in the military was his duty as a man, as a husband, as a son, as a brother, and as a father.

I have always had a jaded and cynical view of government. I have never found the answer to my questions to be satisfactory. Even as a young child I wondered, “was EVERYthing tried before it was decided that the ONLY way to resolve this was to kill people? (in war)”. Why was it the only way? Why couldn’t smart people figure out other ways? Why aren’t smarter people ruling over us if the best that they can come up with is to send our fathers to wars? But even after growing up without a father, I have remained loyal to that flag, the flag that was folded, the flag that still waves.

Because the flag still stands for freedom, though they have taken much of that away. The flag still stands for those who have loved their families and wanted to serve- whether in the military, the police force, as a first-responder, or a front line worker. Whenever someone is willing to put their own health and safety at risk to be of service to their communities, they honor the spirit of the flag as it stands. I’m of course not just talking about Americans. I’ve lived outside of the United States and the people of those countries loved their homeland and their families with the same passion.

The evils of one do not cancel the good motives of another. It is not wrong to love a flag that symbolizes the qualities we admire in humanity, and the values we wish upon the world. If we see loyalty, selflessness, courage, and freedom represented by familiar colors, raised high or clutched by a tiny wooden stick in a young child’s waving hand, we see the best in each other. When we wish goodness and prosperity for all people, beginning at home and spreading worldwide, we may feel optimism when we see others raise our flag in solidarity with our good intentions for humankind.

Those who want to tell us that our hearts are not noble, and we have wrong thoughts or wrong intentions, are lying. They do not know the heart of man. They do not have this power. Hatred toward a flag is propaganda, as is forced loyalty toward one. Authentic feelings toward symbols and flags are complicated, often based on a complex series of lifelong experiences that make each of us unique, which is why we may feel surprisingly emotional when someone outside of our homeland raises “our” flag to show support or sympathy for the people of our homeland during times of celebration or tragedy.

I’ve seen responses to videos from countries all over the world, by people outside of those homelands. Whenever the people rise up in common cause to support, celebrate, or defend the values they hold dear, it is universally sentimental and passionately stirring. The sight of people singing and raising their flags can bring tears, even to the onlookers who see the videos from halfway around the globe. “We the People”, regardless of national origin, recognize selflessness and courage, loyalty and love… and it is both common and natural to feel unity when we see these beautiful qualities in fellow humans.

Never allow political agendas, “activists”, or any other motivated entity to poison what you know is true and good. If you feel nothing but empathy, compassion, and connection to fellow humans, perhaps the sight of a happy person waving a flag doesn’t incite anger or malice in you. Perhaps it stirs up sentiment, thoughtfulness, a bit of sadness maybe… possibly we feel melancholic, and wistful, if only the nostalgia of what people once believed was the reality they were sold… we may feel a complex array of emotions, but at the core, we likely feel an authentic desire that our fellow humans have the right to the pursuit of happiness. When we see our flags waving in the wind, we may see freedom.

We are not responsible for the ills of mankind, nor are we infallible. We are neither accountable for the choices of others, nor are we tasked to control others. When the world operates with oppression and commits crimes against humanity, it does so without the power to cancel, nullify, or otherwise erase from existence the original pure intentions of the people who simply hoped for a reality that wasn’t distorted or destroyed by powerful forces. History can hide what is real, but the truth never really goes away. Good people are not bad because others label them so. Bad people are not good because others promote them as such.

Give yourself permission to honor the fallen, regardless of which date on the calendar is designated for this. Give yourself permission to feel hope at the sight of a flag. Give yourself permission to refuse to condemn yourself for the evils of others. Raise your flag.

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