Written in the flag
On a four-hour bus ride in Thailand in 2007, I sat next to a Canadian girl. She was sweet and seemed to have a good sense of humor. We compared our cultures and found they were pretty much the same, with a few exceptions.
She commented that it seemed Americans hang their flags everywhere, all the time. Sensing slight ridicule, try as I might not to be, I was probably a little defensive when I told her that wasn’t quite true. She asked if there was a flag in my yard. I had to be honest — though I was living in China, my American home at that time was with my parents, who did and still do have a flag in their yard.
Her laugh in response smacked of the stereotype that Americans are prideful (as opposed to just proud), uncultured and war-loving. Not wanting to start an argument or seem like a prideful American, I let it go and changed the subject.
This is what I wish I had said.
I don’t think you can understand what happened to our nation on Sept. 11, 2001. We were attacked on our own soil, and it shook us to the core.
We rallied together, just as we have in generations past when confronted with evil.
When we fly our flag, it does not stand for war or government.
That flag stands for Todd Beamer who, with the words “Let’s roll,” made the most courageous possible decision, even in the face of his own death.
Our colors stand for firefighters who went into the second tower even after it had been hit.
In his column on April 28, Dave Berry said it best when he wrote that our World War II veterans saved the world. The stars and stripes honor the sacrifices made by John Playter, Arthur Stevens, Wayne Deason, Vern Montarbo, Glenn Ford and Edgar Albers and the sacrifices made by the ones who didn’t come back from that war — the men and women who saved the world.
I don’t look at a flag in an American’s yard and think of a stereotype. I think about my brother and every other Missouri State Highway Patrolman. I think about the men and women who put our safety before theirs every day.
I see the history of my family written in the flag’s seams — my father who worked seven nights a week, my grandfather I’ve never known but love as if he’s still here, my brave brother who lost his best friend at 19 years old and my mother who approaches the homeless, lost and troubled instead of turning away.
I remember the unity of our nation when we were expected to crumble. Even those who would have gladly burned the flag the day before Sept. 11 had a new respect for it the day after. We had a new respect for each other and the hidden hero in each of us. For a while, we saw each other as we are truly meant to be — as family.
I’ve had three years to think about that conversation. I can’t go back and do it differently, but I can tell you what I wish I had told her, and maybe that’s all that really matters, because you will understand me.
Fly high the symbol of our best qualities, brothers and sisters. My flag flies in honor of you.
 
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