Flags Scare Me

The first flags were battle standards used during conflict. In times like those, especially when battles were bloody and fought face to face and you were usually slaughtering your neighbors who looked just like you, it was rather important to indicate whose side you were on.

Think about that for a minute. We have to be able to tell each other apart in order to kill the right people. Because if we were all running around naked and flagless, we would all essentially be the same. In which case, what the hell are we fighting for?

Good freakin’ question. What are we fighting for? I think the last war that was waged even tangentially for moral purposes (rather than purely for greed or racism or religious zealotry or the quest for the control of oil) was World War II. So, yeah, we need those flags, man, or we can’t separate ourselves. Us vs. Them.

Flags are the ultimate symbol of polarization. Either you’re on our team or you’re not. And if you aren’t willing to play by the flag flyers’ rules, then get the hell out. Love it or leave it.

It’s very comforting to be a member of a group. You’re accepted. You’re part of the norm. You’re just like us.

But in order to form a group, you have to be willing to believe that all of your members feel the same way about things. And, hey, you’re a good person, right? So if everyone in your group is just like you, then you must be the good guys.

What does that say about those who are excluded from that group? They must be bad. That only makes sense.

And we (“we”) wonder why we can’t all just get along.

On the anniversary of 9/11, I saw a Facebook post that waxed nostalgic for 9/12. It talked about stores running out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. It talked about us all being Americans before anything else. It talked about us being united.

I remember it quite differently. I remember fear and paranoia and confusion and anger. Yes, I remember flags everywhere. Flags defiantly flown. I remember people getting beat up if they looked the slightest bit Muslim. I remember my employer trying to force me to wear a flag pin, and feeling as though my livelihood would be threatened if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I remember not knowing what this angry, enormous mass of “we” was going to do.

That scared the hell out of me. It still does.

I don’t even like rooting for sports teams. I don’t like turning anyone into a them. The only “thems” in my life at the moment are Trump supporters. I don’t understand them. The level of hate they demonstrate terrifies me, because I know that to them, I’m the them.

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So many thems.

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Yes, it’s the Anniversary of 9/11. Can we Please Talk About Something Else?

My mother once wrote me a letter dated December 7th and below the date she wrote “I remember Pearl Harbor.” And it is important to remember those tragic moments in history so that we may learn from them, heal together, and never repeat them. I get that. But.

I strongly suspect that I will dread this day every year for the rest of my life. As we are all quite painfully aware, it’s the day that the world changed. Or better stated, it’s the day that those elements in the world who hate us finally got our attention. I will never forget how I felt, standing in my living room in a state of shock, glued to the television, watching people jumping out of windows to their deaths. It’s a sick and helpless feeling, made that much worse because you know it will forever be a part of your history.

I’ll never forget the fear that permeated the atmosphere for months afterward, and how the poorly focused hatred still lingers. I’ll never forget the rigid and war-like patriotism, and how people would look at you suspiciously if you did not have an American flag on your lapel or hanging from your front porch.

There’s enormous pressure in times of hyper-patriotism. If you’re not with us, then you must be against us. I have never liked situations where there has to be an “us”, because that means someone is forced to be a “them”, and things can so quickly get out of control. I won’t even root for a particular sports team for that reason.

So here we are on the biggest “us” day of the year. And if I did have the blessed relief of forgetting, even for a little while, I can always count on this anniversary to roll around every single year to remind me. I try not to turn on the television on this day. I don’t want to see those images of the planes hitting the towers ever again.

We are lead to believe that to shift our focus would be to dishonor the 2,996 people who lost their lives that day. I disagree. I did not know any of those people personally, but I can’t imagine that if I lost anyone that I loved due to a tragedy, that they’d want me to obsess over the tragedy. Rather, I think they’d want me to focus on their lives and what they meant to me. None of these people deserve to “become” 9/11. They were so much more than that to the people who loved them.

So please don’t talk to me about 9/11, and I’ll make an effort to avoid the media frenzy as well.

I hereby pledge to honor the fallen not by dwelling on 9/11, but by appreciating what I have, and by taking a moment to be thankful for the fact that I get to stand here and breathe this air and feel the sunlight on my face.

I’ll remember the lives that were lost not by living in a constant state of paranoia and xenophobia, but by realizing how precious life and freedom and basic human rights are, and how lucky I am to have them. And I’ll do my best to do that every single day, not just today.

When all is said and done, I suspect that there could be no better memorial than that.


(Image by Moira Schlobohm – Google +)