Little flags

When I was growing up we spent most Memorial Day weekends in Boyne
City with my cousins. Long weekends always seemed like a good excuse to go to grandma’s. Most of my Memorial Day memories fade into the tapestry of family reunions and family weekends that made up my summers (at least, as a pre-teen).  Our family, we spilled into the small neighborhood my grandma lived in, playing games, eating, laughing, running down Pearl Street towards Veteran’s Park for softball or kickball, going to the beach when it was warm enough.  What does separate Memorial Day from all those other weekends, though, were those little flags we’d get over the course of the weekend. Do you remember those…the small cotton American flags on plastic sticks? I think we received them for the 4th of July as well but it was only on Memorial Day we took the flags to the cemetary and patted them around my grandfather’s grave, getting dirt underneath our fingernails in the process. 
Because our grandpa had served in World War II, and that was important, and on Memorial Day you remembered it, even if it meant standing still during the boring parade where groups of men and women donned on uniforms from years gone by and marched down Main Street, not even throwing candy.

What did S. and I do this weekend? We went to a barbecue at A.’s. A. and I went to see Bug (more on this another time). We hosted an unexected guest. We visited my old college campus.  We did not in any way acknowledge the reason behind the long weekend.This isn’t meant to be a post where I beat myself up, or where I  lament the way America  is going. It’s meant to say…all of this is just so exhausting.  On one of the Sunday morning news shows an policy maker from Europe was being interviewed and he said he found it appalling Americans weren’t out screaming in the streets to end this war, that on this Memorial Day we are behaving as though it’s like a Memorial Day during peace time, going to the movies, grilling our dinners, drinking beer.But see, what people don’t realize is, those of us who care, who are against the war and loathe the Bush administration and want to see change, well, we’ve already done that, and we’ve been doing it for years. We marched in parades demonstrating our distaste for the war. We’ve written our representatives. We’ve blogged about it. We’ve voted, and what’s more, we volunteered for campaigns we felt passionate about. Then, after the dismal presidential election, we voted again, and made ourselves “heard.”  

ut none of it has seemed, really, to matter. After years of being ignored by our government, which seems to do exactly what it wants to do regardless of public sentiment, after years of a President who is an international embarrassment, after losing our voice beneath the din of the Christian conversatives who would rather spend their time worrying about gay people marrying and women having abortions than the state of their country, in the present, well – I think I speak for some of us when we’ve become a little complacent.  When you act, when you take the actions you believe will make a difference only to find out you might as well have gone to the movies, well, a malaise eventually settles over you.  We weren’t screaming in the streets because we already have, and we failed. What’s more, some asshole tried to run us over with his SUV.

I mean, why vote when your presidential candidate wins and still doesn’t get to serve in the office he earned? Why protest the war when your President would rather continue to sacrifice the lives of young men and women than admit he made a mistake? I actually have a healthy dose of patriotism running through me. I loved planting those little flags at my grandfather’s gravesite because it felt like an honor, and honor for him and an honor for me.  While I have complicated feelings about Vietnam’s effect on my father, I couldn’t be prouder that in a generation of dodge-drafting he joined the Marines and served two tours of duty because it was the right thing to do.  And I believe in the potential of my country. As the United States of America, we should help countries that need our protection for no reason other than it is right and good to do so. We should provide solace and safety to immigrants and we should go forth into the world as a country humble in its wealth, compassioante in international politics and determined to raise the countries aroud us up, instead of tearing others apart.

The truth is, the U.S. is a really, really good country to come from, and it is full of determined, passionate people who believe the best of the country can be elevated and the worst can be diminished. This Memorial Day, though, I think most of us just felt a little tired of this renegage administration and malaise overtook us. 

Sometimes I wish I could again experience the simple pride of planting a delicate little flag next to the grave of a man I loved, without the action being replete with political meaning. Sometimes I wish it could all be as simple as the stars, and the stripes, and a nation trying, in its own fucked up, wreck of a way to do the right thing. 

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5 Responses to Little flags

  1. Emily says:

    Very interesting (and as always, well-written) post. On Monday, Bob suggested I say grace before dinner. My grace basically consisted of asking God to please take care of all those men and women who are fighting right now, as well as those who have died in all the wars over the centuries that He certainly hasn’t condoned, but which we miserable humans insist on fighting. Bob’s comment, “Well, that was the most unusual Memorial Day prayer I’ve ever heard.” Most Americans, though, unfortunately, would probably disagree with me and my take on what God thinks of all our “necessary” wars.

  2. Andi says:

    I agree with you completely. Well-written and I couldn’t have expressed it any better. Reminds me, as cliched or maudlin as it might be, of the John Mayer song, “Waiting on the World to Change.” Because right now I’m just waiting on America to change because I feel that every bit of speaking out I’ve done for these last many years has been in vain.

  3. Andi says:

    By the way, I tagged you for a writing meme. Proceed if you’d like!

  4. Emily – I love your grace. And thank you for saying this is well-written because I did it totally on the fly in between other projects!
    Andi – that song is maudlin but it is how I feel as well. apart from some sort of civil disobedience or hunger strike I’m really not sure what I can do right now!

  5. You have just expressed so much of what I’ve been feeling lately. I love this country and like you, am a patriot at heart, but it is so hard to feel the same pride I once felt because of the politics and leadership today.

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