Jay Meehan: Patriotic symbols
Park Record columnist
I usually don’t see the anniversary of 9/11 coming anymore unless prompted by a random thought or a mention by a friend or in the media.
All of a sudden, like today as I type this, it’s just there, right in front of my face, sort of challenging the measly flag exhibit that lives year around next to the hand-tied wet-fly-decorated tumbleweed on top of my computer desk.
Obviously, I must be uncomfortable with the memory. I recall how elated I felt as a bunch of us rendezvoused at a Vernal motel on 9/12 in preparation for a 5-day river trip beginning with a float through the Gates of Ladore on the Green River. Hiding out in those precious canyons would provide a welcome sanctuary from reality and the horse it rode in on.
I’ve never been a flag person in the sense that it was something I revered. During my highly misspent youth, however, I did fashion from whole cloth a relatively decent rendition of the Confederate flag. Something about the stars-and-bars and color scheme resonated with my 2nd-grade “be the first one on your block” sensibility I suppose.
What triggered today’s reaction is an essay written by the late author David Foster Wallace and reposted this morning by Rolling Stone. Arriving with an alarm-clock-ish alert from my cell phone and much more pastoral in style than his usual stuff, his words kept me pinned to the pillow for no other reason than it was “he” who had written them.
Touring his neighborhood a week or so after the towers fell, DFW waxed upon the various flags displayed upon houses and vehicles and RFD mailboxes and the implied statements thereof. The greater ecosystem of the University of Indiana (where he, no doubt toiled in the Creative Writing Department) provided a flag-rich environment.
Even as I committed to memory various bugle calls associated with flag raising and lowering rituals and such, the process didn’t do much to swell my heart with patriotic pride. It was just that I had a new bugle and, like learning Morse code, it was something fun to do during Boy Scout years.
Same when I joined the Army. No matter where I was stationed, I somehow found myself on whatever ceremonial drill teams, replete with M16 rifles, spit-shined boots, starched and creased fatigues, and spinning flags, beckoned.
I loved the synchronization of marching in step while twirling a rifle in various patterns prior to plopping it down at the ever-moving boot heel in unison with your battalion, company, platoon, or squad mates. We’re talking fun, here, and keeping off KP and guard duty and the rest of those menial enlisted man chores.
That isn’t to say I didn’t and don’t understand the emotions when others, conditioned differently than myself, tear up in joy and love, especially when the unfurled symbols are sufficiently tattered. Hell, I’ve been known to become a chocolate mess over family-value oriented Mormon PSAs on the tube.
Not to mention the first anniversary of 9/11 when I found myself wandering with a longtime friend among the 3,000 or so smallish flags filling the space of Washington Square Park in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. More than anything, I felt the collective pain of the country.
Another mindset that demonstrates my ever-growing separateness from the mainstream is that I’m only drawn to NFL games if I can tune-in early enough to catch players taking a Colin Kaepernick-like knee during the national anthem.
I feel I should do my part to counter the low TV ratings the league has been getting, reportedly, as protest with “Kaep” and those who agree with him. In my humble opinion, of course, the “right” misses the point on both the 1st and 2nd Amendments to that same Constitution they so often hold up and wave as a flag of sorts.
I should add that while I do believe this country has been courageous in its historic fight against fascism, with its history of genocide and slavery, it has never been “great.” It’s MY country too and I love it and hope for it to achieve some kind of moral high ground at some point.
And to the folks out there who have never “served” but who champion war as a way to re-assert America’s place in the nationalistic food chain, I find it difficult to respect your patriotic fervor.
Oh, yeah. And if you believe in America the Beautiful, fight for the protection of Bears Ears and sacred ground everywhere. Bless you all!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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