Don’t Renounce the Day Bestowed On You

Photo Credit: Samuel Branch/Unsplash

Not for the first time, I noticed an American flag still displayed in the dark. I thought “Isn’t it supposed to be taken down at night?” I have seen them still flying in the rain, too, a practice which I also assumed to be a no-no. I wondered what the state of flag etiquette is in our country and if what I was taught as a boy has been updated.

A little research revealed that Public Law 94–344, known as the Federal Flag Code, still contains rules for handling and displaying the U.S. flag. There are no penalties for misusing the flag, but states have their own flag codes and may impose penalties. It’s probably in the same league as those little tags on merchandise with the menacing “Do not remove, under penalty of law.” I really thought I’d get in trouble if I ever pulled one off a pillow. No one’s watching. There are neither tag nor flag police out there waiting to catch you.

The language of the federal code, one site declares, also makes clear that the flag is a living symbol. That struck me. A living symbol of what, exactly? What does that mean right now, in these confusing and polarized times?

My Boy Scout Handbook (circa 1963) had this to say. “And as you look at that flag and think of the pledge you are making, you feel again the thrill of being an American.

That flag is far more than the red, white, and blue cloth of which is made. It stands for the past and the present and the future of our country. It stands for our people, our land, and our way of life. When the thirteen original colonies set out to become a free country close to two hundred years ago, their men and women needed a rallying point, a flag.

‘We will take the stars and blue union from heaven,’ the great Washington is reported to have said, ‘red from her mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripe shall go down to posterity representing liberty.’ ”

Hard to find any fault with that, though I confess to having my own doubts about my native land and how far she may have strayed from those magnificent and soaring ideas. I have had similar misgivings about scouting and leaders with feet of clay. I’ve had doubts about my family, with our own share of drunks and mysterious deaths and mythologies. I’ve had moments of national anthem envy, hearing “Oh, Canada” sung at Fenway Park. I know there is a lot of wiggle room interpreting what “our way of life” means. In each case, whether scouting, family or country, I can find a place to stand and be proud, even while acknowledging imperfection.

I have felt, down to the soles of my feet, the “thrill of being an American,” as the handbook said. I share James Baldwin’s notion that “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Pablo Neruda, in The Day Will Come, exhorts us “Don’t renounce the day bestowed on you by those who died struggling. Every spike is born of a grain seeded in the earth, and like the wheat, the innumerable people join roots, accumulate spikes,and in the tempest unleashed they rise up to the light of the universe.”

Grieve what you must, then get back up to the plate and swing like an American. This game’s not over yet.

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Craig "The GratiDude" Jones

Craig "The GratiDude" Jones

I am pursuing An Inquiry Into A Gratitude-Inspired Life