Thursday is a special day. When I was growing up, we were normally on vacation June 14, and my brothers would use the day as an excuse to leave their shirttails “flying”. Flag Day is not normally celebrated in that manner; then again, it is rarely celebrated at all. Our flag is the third oldest national banner in the world behind the Union Jack of Great Britain and the Tricolor of France. The Stars and Stripes was authorized by Congress on June 14, 1777. Since that time it has flown on every continent and in space, in peace and in war. George Washington described its symbolism as having taken “the stars from Heaven, the red from our Mother Country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty.”
The history of our nation is replete with tales of individuals who risked their lives to keep our flag from dropping to the ground in battle. To these people, their flag was the embodiment of their nation, ideals, and their reason for being in war. Many parents and spouses have stoically borne the loss of a loved one, until the flag is removed from the casket, folded and presented to them. Receiving that symbol of a nation’s honor and grief breaks through the façade as nothing else does.
In 1914, Franklin Lane, the Secretary of the Interior, penned a speech pertaining to the flag. The style is somewhat old fashioned and ornate, but the sentiment is well worth reading, remembering – and, especially today, sharing.
This morning, as I passed into the Land Office, the Flag dropped me a most cordial salutation, and from its rippling folds I heard it say: ‘Good morning, Mr. Flag Maker.’
‘I beg your pardon, Old Glory,’ I said. ‘Aren’t you mistaken? I am not the President of the United States, nor a member of Congress, nor even a General in the Army. I am only a Government Clerk.’
‘I greet you again, Mr. Flag Maker,’ replied the cheerful voice. ‘I know you well. You are the man who worked in the swelter of yesterday, straightening out the tangle of that farmer’s homestead in Idaho, or perhaps you found the mistake in that Indian contract in Oklahoma, or helped to clear that patent for a hopeful inventor in New York, or pushed the opening of that new ditch in Colorado, or make that mine in Illinois more safe, or brought relief to that old soldier in Wyoming. No matter; whatever one of these beneficent individuals you happen to be, I give you greeting, Mr. Flag Maker.
I was about pass on, when the Flag stopped me with these words:
‘Yesterday the President spoke a word that made happier the future of ten million peons in Mexico; but that act looms no larger on the Flag than the struggle which the boy in Georgia is making to win the Corn Club prize this summer. ‘Yesterday the Congress spoke a word which will open the door of Alaska; but a mother in Michigan worked from sunrise until far into the night, to give her boy an education. She, too, is making the Flag. Yesterday we made a new law to prevent financial panics, and yesterday a schoolteacher in Ohio taught his first letters to a boy who will one day write a song that will give cheer to millions of our race. We are all making the Flag.’
‘But,’ I said impatiently, ‘these people were only working!’ Then came a great shout from the Flag; ‘The work that we do is the making of the Flag. I am not the Flag; not at all. I am but its shadow. I am whatever you make me, nothing more. I am your belief in yourself, your dream of what a people may become. I live a changing life, a life of moods and passions, of heartbreaks and tired muscles. Sometimes I am strong with pride, when men do an honest work, fitting the rails together truly. Sometimes I droop, for then purpose has gone from me, and cynically I play the coward. Sometimes I am loud, garish, and full of ego that blasts judgment. But always I am all that you hope to be, and have the courage to try for. I am song and fear, struggle and panic, and ennobling hope. I am the day’s work of the weakest man, and the largest dream of the most daring. I am the Constitution and the Courts, Statutes and state-maker, soldier and dread-naught, drayman and sweep, cook, counselor and clerk, I am the battle of yesterday and the mistake of tomorrow. I am the mystery of the men who do without knowing why. I am the clutch of an idea and the reasoned purpose of resolution. I am no more than what you believe me to be and I am all that you believe I can be.’
‘I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself, the pictured suggestion of that big thing which makes this nation. My stars and my stripes are your dreams and your labors. They are bright with cheer, brilliant with courage, firm with faith, because you have made them so out of your hearts; for you are the makers of the Flag, and it is well that you glory in the making.’
It, our nation, and our community are what we make them; if we persist in being cynical and negative, that, too, is reflected. Let’s make it all of which we dream!
Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org