Did you know today was Flag Day in the United States?
I did, but I really didn’t care. So what, it’s Flag Day? Just another day with a name, it didn’t phase me or make me think of anything special. I slept in late and exercised when I woke up. I played on the Wii and my iPad. I replied to some comments, transcribed some calculus notes, and went shopping. It was just another day. Who cared it was Flag Day?
That’s what I thought, at least, until I saw the news a while ago. They spoke a little bit about the flag and showed a class of immigrants talking about becoming citizens and what the flag means to them. It gave me a new perspective on the oft-ignored holiday and left me feeling thankful for our flag.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with symbols. The magen David–the shield of David, or Jewish star, that signifies my faith and heritage. The shorthand glyphs used for planets and signs in astrology. The little “k” in a circle that tells me food is kosher. Or the letters that together form words that bring substance to all existence–in this language, in Hebrew, in Arabic and Russian and Greek. Symbols amaze me.
It’s no surprise that symbolism also amazes me. The newscast gave a bit of trivia on the flag, stating what the blue stands for, and it made me want to find out what the other colors stand for as well. So, I did what all gentlemen of the twenty-first century do: I jumped on Google to find out, and I stumbled across a site called USflag.org that gave me all the answers I wanted.
The color red stands for hardiness and valor. It’s the strength that helps us to stand–the color of blood, the life that flows through our veins, the synthesis of fire and water. The color of birth and the color of death. The red of the sunset humbles and the red of morning warns of coming danger. It is the passion of the heart and the fury of rage. And we are a passionate bunch, aren’t we? We get passionate about our causes, our classes, our callings–we even get passionate about laziness and egotism and self-centeredness, but all of this is occasionally tempered with the valor and nobility befitting a great country such as ours.
The white signifies purity and innocence. I doubt today the average man has either of these, but purity and innocence can be seen in other ways, too. We can be pure of thought when we’re certain and committed. We can be innocent until proven guilty, or innocent at birth when the world has yet to color our vision with biases and prejudices–and to maintain this purity, this truth that all are equal even if we have yet to understand the gravity of such a statement, that purity is as ideal to any American as the words of our founding fathers.
Finally the blue stands for vigilance, perseverance, and justice. The ability to press onward and be watchful at all times, the will to uphold what’s right and proper. We all have perseverance when we won’t sit down but instead keep fighting, no matter how we wield our weapons–whether with words or hands, with rifles on the battlefront or with telephones calling for support, or pencils during a test deciding pass or failure. And I have to believe, in my heart, that we all believe in justice, that rightness will prevail, that fairness will win on all accounts where an injustice has been made. But reality assures me that justice isn’t as easily achieved as deserved.
The stars and stripes bear special meaning as well. The star is a sign of the heavens and the divine aspirations of all humans. Some may see that as inherently religious, but in my open-minded worldview, it simply shows me that we all have higher callings–whether we attribute them to God or our deepest passions, who can say?
The stripes stand for the rays of light that emanate from the sun. I’m sure there are those to whom this means we should be like the sun, a beacon unto other nations, but again I see it differently: We should spread ourselves like the sun illuminates the earth, not by forcing others to wilt under our brightness, but bringing others into a shared symbiosis where all lights coexist. We don’t need to change others to influence them–and we don’t have to influence them just to make them more like us. Any interaction is enough to change the world.
I think it’s important to know what the flag signifies, no matter what country you come from. For me, the US flag and the Israeli flag hold a special place in my heart–but for you, maybe it’s the flag of the Netherlands or Lithuania, Poland or Iran. It’s a national symbol no matter where you’re from, and you should own it, truly own it and make it a part of you in whatever way you can. I do this with words, flowery descriptions and metaphors, but maybe the symbols will speak to you through art–images placed delicately upon canvasses–or through actions–in volunteering at animal shelters or tending a garden–or in any number of ways. Whatever it inspires you to do, grasp that inspiration and make the most of it–because your flag, no matter what it stands for, is an intimate part of who you are.
Sure, I gripe about Americans all the time–it takes one to know one and all of that–but I do love our country, with all of my heart, and for every word I complain, I’ve got a dozen more of encouragement and wonder. Our country is amazing. Like all things built by human hands and tarnished by human hearts, there will always be room for improvements, for changes better and worse, evolution and progression, but today–today alone–all of that has been set aside to revel in the one thing that unites all of us: our flag.