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May She Ever Wave

by Liz Flaherty


It’s July third as I write this, a beautiful warm day here in the part of North Central Nowhere that is my home.  I just watched Jimmy sing "Over There” in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy and I have to dry my eyes and sit down and write this before I do anything else.

It’s in the news all over the place right now; let’s make it against the law to burn or otherwise desecrate the American flag.  As of right now, the proposal has passed the house of representatives and is working its way through the senate.  It might make it.  Our congress may this time amend our constitution with a law that protects the stars and stripes from . . . well, from something.   

I love this flag of ours, every single star and stripe, every thread of its deep blue field.   It makes my throat close up when it waves even as it makes me cheer for the pure joy of living where we live.  I have to stand when it goes by, have to sing every difficult word of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “tsk, tsk” a lot because so many people don’t even know those words, much less sing them loud and terribly the way I do.

When protesters burn the flag or in other ways show contempt of it, it almost causes physical pain.  Like everyone else here in the great melting pot, I have ancestors who were in early wars.  I have a husband who was in Vietnam, a son who served during Desert Storm, though he remained stateside.   To disrespect the flag they represented is to disrespect them and it ticks me off.  It makes me want to shake my fist at the dissenters and yell, “Hey, if you don’t like it, you’re always free to leave,” like people did back in the 60s.

In church today we sang patriotic songs and the minister talked about the flag in her sermon.  The stars and stripes stands at the front of the sanctuary, on the left side; the Christian flag is on the right. t seems right to me, a Christian, that the two flags stand together.  The paper flag I got at the grocery store yesterday is on the dash of my car, flapping a bit in the breeze when I open the windows.

Protection of it could be a constitutional amendment, I keep thinking.  So I read the other 27 amendments, to see what kind of company a flag-burning codicil would be keeping.

You know what?  The Bill of Rights and the 17 amendments that followed it are all about freedom.  You can’t be kept from voting if you’re a black man, promises Number 13; or if you’re a woman, vows Number 19.  If you’re 18, says Number 26, you can vote, too.  Number Nine says, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”  Not one of those 27 appendices to the constitution of the United States takes anything away from its citizens. 

I don’t like people who burn or in any way deface the American flag.  I really don’t like people who wear white sheets and march in hatred of other factions of our society.  I can’t stand feeling that my beliefs are being attacked every time I turn around.  I worry that by the time my grandkids are grown, there won’t be any belief systems left except ones of violence and intolerance.

But then there’s the other side of the coin.

It’s about pride.  I’m so very proud to live in a country where different beliefs have historically been not only allowed but encouraged.  Where religious freedom means it’s your choice whether to be Catholic, Jewish, Amish, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, or any of countless other denominations and splinter groups.  Or not religious at all.  Where churches like the little one on the corner where I go were there before most of us got here and will be there when we’re gone and everybody’s welcome.  Where those of us who abhor guns stand in the bleachers beside people who understand and enjoy knowledge of firearms and I don’t want to talk to them about gun violence and they don’t want me join the NRA — we’re both there to watch the game. 

A country where stupid is stupid, regardless of gender, race, religious, or political persuasion, and — most of the time; we’re still working on consistency here in our young country — you get in trouble for being stupid, not for being a girl, black, Jewish, or a democrat or republican.  And you get in trouble for burning the flag because chances are good you’re disturbing the peace, not because there’s a constitutional amendment against it. If you do it in an orderly, non-disruptive manner, you are free — ah, there’s that lovely word again >—to do so.  And, as with the folks in the white sheets, I am free to turn my back on you and walk away just as I would from a bad movie, a dumb book, or a concert where I find the music lousy.  I can leave if I don’t love it.

This is why those previous wars were fought, why our ancestors and my husband and son and yours, too, served in the armed forces.  Not that we’re always right or particularly smart or kind.  Oh, no.  But what we are is always free.  No matter how many miscreants run around in white sheets, more of us will snicker at their idiocy.  No matter how many flags get burned in protest, more will fly.  We do not need a constitutional amendment for this to be true.

Happy 229th birthday, America.  Let freedom ring!


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