Just need to vent a little

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Just need to vent a little

Post  Latrans on Fri Jun 17, 2016 2:52 am

As the title says, I just feel the need to vent a bit. It's not anger, or stress. It's just the need to share some thoughts I had.

Earlier today I retired a number of American flags. I got them from work, in large part because nobody else had the heart to do it themselves.

Anyways, for the few of us who may not know, when a U.S. flag has been significantly worn/torn/frayed/faded/etc. it is proper etiquette to "retire it" or "lay it to rest". This is done by laying the folded flag on a lit pyre in a quiet, respectful ceremony. The nature of the pyre could be most anything, from a small fire in your back yard to a huge public bon fire. The critical bit is being respectful.

Anyways, it got me to thinking. I don't consider myself a very patriotic person. I've never served in the military, I generally refrain from voting, etc. However, there are some things I tend to take surprisingly serious. I will thank military members for their service. I may not like what our country does with them, but the service men and women themselves deserve every bit of respect we can give them.

I'm also something of a stickler when it comes to how people treat the flag. I'm not talking about public flag burning, or other "bad" acts done for the sake of making a statement. Remember those service members? They put their lives on the line so that we can have the freedom to make those statements. I may not like what you have to say, but I will never take away your right to say it.

I'm talking about the every-day sorts of things. Flying a flag from your vehicle while traveling down the interstate, leaving it outside (unlit) at night, or not folding it properly. Things people do without even realizing what they are doing or why it is wrong.

When I got these flags, they had been improperly folded and piled on a back shelf of a forgotten room for what is likely to have been years. The first thing I did was have my 13 year old daughter help me re-fold them. Then we lay them to rest, one at a time, in my back yard. She was suitably unimpressed. I suppose I can't really blame her. When I was 13, I really didn't understand the meaning behind a lot of things either. I could tell you them, but that doesn't mean I understood them.

But what is the meaning? A flag is a symbol. If you ask five different people what that symbol means, you'll probably get seven different answers. To me, it's a symbol of history. It is a symbol of the ideals the United States was founded on. It's a symbol of all the good this country is supposed to stand for. I have to put that "supposed" in there because there's a lot this country has (and is) doing that I don't particularly agree with. But then, that's also a consequence of having 320 million people lumped together: not everybody is going to agree on everything.

Anyways, I need to bring this wandering thought-train back around. Respect. I lay some flags to rest tonight. I did one at a time, not only for practical reasons (small fire pit) but also to be respectful. I wanted to give every one of those flags my quiet, devoted attention and just piling them on the flames in one lump simply didn't seem right. I lay each one by itself then stood quietly and watched until each was gone. Perhaps being the tattered and worn out flags that flew in front of an auto-parts warehouse isn't exactly glamorous, but it's times like these that it is good to remember just what that symbol means and why we should respect it, even if sometimes we don't agree.

I really hope I'm not the only one who thinks about stuff like this.
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Re: Just need to vent a little

Post  Slim Shadow on Fri Jun 17, 2016 1:07 pm

As a Canadian, I don't really understand the nuances of American culture when it comes to the flag. I know the 50 stars represent the 50 states in which it contains, and it also has 13 stripes denoting the original 13 colonies. But there are also rituals associated with the flag, such as the pledge of allegiance to it, the flag being being risen every morning and brought down every night, the folding technique so that it ends up a triangle, with the stars facing outside, and as alluded to, the burning ceremony. The same with anthems and patriotic songs. They're sung before each day of school, and every sporting event, and from what I can tell, most stadiums still play "God Bless America" during the 7th Inning Stretch, notably after the 9/11 attacks. All of this may seem unnecessary to a foreigner, but I do know that it is part of American tradition.

In Canada, we don't have much nuances involving the Canadian flag. We wave it outside of our schools, post offices, city halls, and other places, we usually sing our anthems before school and sporting events, as well as every other occasion. I like being a Canadian. I have called this country my home for all of my life, and I will not change it. Even if my job has me shipped to a new country, I will still consider myself a Canadian.
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Re: Just need to vent a little

Post  Ellen-Natalie on Sat Jun 18, 2016 9:35 am

Thanks for sharing, Latrans. Growing up in Girl Scouts, I got to participate in a lot of different flag ceremonies and retirements - I definitely think more people should get the opportunity to do so. Those ceremonies really helped me connect with the ideas of what the flag, and ultimately, what our country aspires to.

It's interesting reading your thoughts about the flag being used in art and casual everyday use - I have the opposite feelings, yet for similar reasons. Not everyone follows the rules for flag care, but the average person doesn't know all those rules. In the past, when encountering someone not properly displaying or disposing a flag, they had no idea - and despite how the flag was treated, they cared about the country as much as I did. It's why they were using a flag, regardless of how improperly,  in the first place.

Using the flag in art, however, gives me squirmy feels. It is absolutely everyone's right to use whatever they like, including the American flag, to communicate an artistic statement. More often than not, though, I see the flag used in art to provoke rather than reflect. Regardless of what message you're trying to convey, using the flag feels like using a big sign that shouts, "You're supposed to care about this!"  It's one thing to casually use a flag improperly because you didn't know better, it's another to deliberately abuse a flag to manipulate others into caring about your message.

When I think about what the flag means to me personally, I think about elementary school. Every year, there was an assembly - the exact same assembly. All the kids would bring their chairs down to the gym's stage, the lights would dim, and an enormous flag was on display. There were stains, faded colors, a few big holes and all edges worn to frays. They probably explained where the flag came from, but I never remembered. I did remember how the assembly always ended, though - playing a recording of the 'Ragged Old Flag' Poem. Not sure if they were following the rules for proper flag care, but they definitely wanted to help kids start thinking about what the flag meant for each of us.

If you haven't heard it, I posted a link to the poem below:
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Re: Just need to vent a little

Post  Cutekitty on Mon Jun 20, 2016 12:35 pm

I did not thoroughly learn the rules for proper flag care, though I recognize one or two of them, such as retiring through burning. Nor did I ever internalize their significance. At 22, I can hardly use youth as an excuse for not doing this.

These rituals have meaning to people because people assign meaning to them (as it goes with symbols in general). I said the Pledge of Allegiance as a kid, but I didn't participate in other flag rituals, at least not that I can recall, and so I never developed a personal connection to these rituals or to the flag. Logically, I can understand that you and many others hold these traditions sacred (in the secular sense, and for lack of a better word), and were I in your company I'd gladly respect them with you, but I don't feel upset if others do not treat the flag in the same way. To me, the flag is not sacred, though the meanings you attribute to it are beautiful--and the sentiments expressed by both you and Ellen-Natalie give me pause.

This is not something I think about often, but your post, and the other posts here, are making me think about it, so thank you for sharing.


Last edited by Cutekitty on Mon Jun 20, 2016 3:34 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Just need to vent a little

Post  Slim Shadow on Mon Jun 20, 2016 1:54 pm

So, because of the last post I made, I felt inspired to do some research on how Canadian flags are folded. Here's one of the best ones I found. Keep in mind, that this is a military ceremonial folding and civilian Canadians are not expected to know this.

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Re: Just need to vent a little

Post  Ellen-Natalie on Mon Jun 20, 2016 6:23 pm

That's really cool, Slim Shadow! I've never seen a flag ceremony for another country before
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Re: Just need to vent a little

Post  Latrans on Thu Jun 30, 2016 1:45 am

Sorry for being so quiet on this after my opening post. I really appreciate the input. Ms. Natalie, I think you and I are really on the same page, just different paragraphs. My issue is largely with people who are trying to espouse an idea, but neglect to do the proper research into just what that idea entails. To use a religious example: people who will yell at others about the Bible, but they've never actually sad down and read the thing or tried to understand what it all actually means. I'm not upset at what people choose to do, as long as they understand just what it is they're actually doing first.

Slim, Cutekitty, I'm afraid I don't have much to respond to you, but I do appreciate the input.
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Re: Just need to vent a little

Post  Hypērétēs on Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:18 am

Coming from the military it's impossible not to notice how many people lack a basic familiarity with the flag code: Flags left out, flags unlit, flags in disrepair, and flags as clothing - ESPECIALLY flags as clothing - drive me insane. Flying a flag is not patriotic if you don't treat it with the minimum standard of decency.

But then, the same could be said of our country.

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Re: Just need to vent a little

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