Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flag Etiquette

I had a very American fourth.  The family and I spent the weekend off in Hershey, Pennsylvania, enjoying a few days of amusement park/water park/chocolate-gorging indulgence.  We went from bucketing around on mild-concussion-inducing old wooden coasters to being aaaaaaaaieeee launched four stories straight up to walking slowly through a vast garden of roses.  We watched the fireworks display that night from a still-warm parking lot, with a random and rainbow-hued mix of Americans.

It was quite pleasant, although even all that park-walking didn't prevent a slight increase around my midsection.  

As we pulled back into our driveway, there was a small American flag stuck in the ground at the entrance.  It had been left by our local realtor, an "8" by 12" Economy U.S. Flag," a red-white-and-blue reminder that if we're thinking of selling our house, or know anyone who is...well...  

We get these inexpensive bits of Americana now and again, and add them to a collection of flags we keep in our basement, including the several that flew in our front yard along with those in all the yards in our neighborhood during the months after the attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.  One house in our subdivision was missing a mom after that day.  

On the new little flag was a set of instructions on flag care and etiquette, which I read just because it was there.  It was standard stuff.  Here are the days to fly the flag.  Here is the Pledge of Allegiance, along with Pledge Protocols.  Nothing unusual.  Until I hit these two sentences:
"The flag is not an inanimate object.  It flies freely with a life force powerful enough to unite an entire nation."
Purple prose above the fruited plain is not uncommon in patriotic literature.  But this was an odd thing, peculiarly animistic to the point of almost sounding mid-20th Century Shinto

Of course the flag is an inanimate object.  If it moves, it is only because the wind moves.  If it has life, it is only because there is a republic of free citizens who wave it.  The American flag that sits forever still on the moon would be meaningless to an alien probe that arrived to explore that rocky world and the asteroid-shattered, lifeless main planet around which it orbited.

It's only two sentences on a card on a mass-produced adflag, so I suppose it matters not.

Still, it needled me.  Perhaps it's just my reflexive Calvinist resistance to any and all forms of idolatry.  Even...and especially...the ones that stir us.