Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fly Your Freak Flag High

My best friend and I often find that we share a brain. We've known each other since early childhood, so I'm usually able to predict what she's thinking, or what her opinion on a given topic will be. We often alienate others with our connection, so we don't tend to have many friends in common. It makes sense -- no one wants to feel like the third wheel, and we're not very good at helping people not to feel that way.

One of the things that drew me to the Husband in our early relationship was that he didn't seem intimidated by our friendship in the least. To him, it simply was what it was. That's a fairly stark contrast to my best friend's husband, who, after twelve years, is only just beginning to feel comfortable. When I moved to California in 2003, I think he was relieved that there would be some distance.

A few years later, and I have to laugh that he's upset we're moving. We're moving about half an hour away, so I don't think it's really going to have much of an impact. But for a guy who nearly threw a party when I moved three thousand miles away, being upset about twenty miles seems ironic.

Back in early 2002, I was surprised to see a difference between my best friend and myself. We're different in plenty of ways, but I generally know what those ways are, so I'm taken aback when I find an unexpected difference. In this case, I hadn't thought that I would see an American flag inside my best friend's apartment. It was not long after September 11, and American flags were suddenly everywhere. They were taped inside the windows of cars, they were hanging on antennas, and they were outside so many homes.

To me, all the American flags felt like jingoism or artifice. Most people, I assumed, were using the flag as some sort of fad. And I think I was right -- those flags have been replaced by silicon bracelets for causes and Crocs. Those who weren't using the flag as a fashion statement I found even more troubling. It seemed to me that they were using the flag to usher in a new era of American backwardness -- rushing to war and constitutional amendments would soon follow. Again, I think I was right. The Bush Administration capitalized on the "You're either with us or against us" sentiment to lead the country down a very destructive path.

Voicing my concerns, I questioned why my friend was displaying the flag.

"You're absolutely right, Mark," she said. "I hate how people are using the flag, and what they want it to represent. And that's why I have a flag."

I didn't understand.

"Someone has to display the flag for the right reasons. I fly the flag to represent what I think America represents, and what I think it means to be an American. If we let every flag represent the Bush Administration, then they win."

She was right, of course. She almost always is. But it's taken a long time for me to return to a comfort with the American flag. I'm not sure that I'm there yet.

On my morning jog, I pass by a small monument next to a dam. It's inside the fence that keeps people from falling into the water. It looks like a tombstone, and there are two small American flags flanking it. I don't really know who the memorial, or the bridge which shares the name, remembers.

This morning, while going past the memorial, I noticed that one of the flags has fallen over. It was under some dirt, and obscured by grass and weeds. Wondering if any of the other joggers would notice, and think I was desecrating the memorial or terrorizing the local water supply, I climbed under a broken part of the fence. I picked up the fallen flag and brushed off the dirt on my t-shirt. Satisfied that the flag looked pretty good, I put it back into the ground, once again flanking the monument.

I don't know what the monument is for, but I know what the American flag is meant to represent.


  1. Awww, what a sweet thing to do. And your friend is right - we can't let people co-opt patriotic symbols, as if they're the only ones to whom they belong. The point is, they belong to all of us as Americans.

  2. What a great post! I really like your friend's reasons for flying the flag.

  3. Bravo to you, and your friend. I have a flag on my house, and I always will. Thanks for being someone who remembers why. It seems like maybe the rest of the world is catching up.

    (Course, the flag sticker on my car says Godless American - that's a whole other cause.)