This is a piece I wrote some years ago to honor a veteran who never spoke about his service.
Every Veteran’s Day I hang the flag that draped my stepfather’s coffin, every year except for one. That year I did not look forward to the holiday as I had in the past. I did not hang the flag, for I had hung it on the front porch on September 11th of the preceding year and had yet to take it down.
That September 11th was a nightmare of a day, and my heart ached as I watched the flag unfurl in the breeze. The reason I hung the flag was sad. The reason I owned it was sad. They both dealt with death. The flag hung through a complete cycle of the seasons and throughout that year I would look out the window and see the flag twisted into a tight spiral. It seemed appropriate that Old Glory wound around upon itself since my feelings were also twisted tight within me.
There are no words for how I felt. It was as if my ability to express emotion was shattered in the explosions that shook our nation that September. I stared at the tangled flag and could not summon the energy needed to set it free. There was a void inside me. The internal essence of the United States of America, that treasured part of my identity, had been damaged and I was afraid. I grieved.
Then one day as I stared at the flag the wind changed and this special piece of cloth unfurled and snapped in the breeze as if irritated at having its independence stifled. In a wild, daring dance of red, white and blue it cavorted, made me grin in spite of my fear. I watched it and my heart relaxed, the pain eased. I smiled deep inside for the first time in months. You can’t kill a good idea, I realized.
The spirit of America is meant to be free, not twisted and confined. We are a people who dance upon the winds of our dreams. So today I will take a long moment to thank my stepfather for the flag that lay across his coffin. Then I will go outside, hang his flag, place my hand over my heart and saluted the vision that symbolizes our country. I will twirl around, synchronize my movements with those of Old Glory and I will celebrate the ones who released me from fear. They gave so much for me. The least I can do is honor Veteran’s Day for them.