I am currently going through the process of naturalization to get my American citizenship. I tell you what – you haven’t lived until you’ve been fingerprinted for your FBI file. As someone with a very benign life, I actually think it’s sort of adorable that I have an FBI file! ha!
All of this has got me thinking….about citizenship, patriotism, community, the world… vast ideals! In all of it, I was reminded of something that happened to me about 7 or 8 years ago, when I was a stay at home mom who spent a good deal of time each afternoon in the carpool line.
5th graders rotated through the responsibility of taking down the flag every day, and I would laugh to myself as I saw them struggle to fold it and keep it from dragging on the ground. It seemed like a very ponderous process. But when my daughter reached 5th grade, I learned that it’s a big deal (remember, not an American). I didn’t know that the flag wasn’t allowed to touch the ground, out of respect. I didn’t know that the way it was folded was prescribed. During her week of flag duty I watched my daughter’s careful clumsiness, the way she took her responsibility very seriously. Clearly, the way the flag was treated mattered.
I don’t know why, but one day, watching the whole process, I was struck by this thought: We treat this flag with more respect and care than we treat the people who pledge allegiance to it. We are up in arms when the American flag is burned, dragged, disrespected, violated, vandalized or ripped down. It offends our patriotism and makes us angry. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that our symbols and how we treat them matter. But it also matters how we treat the people who share them. The people who live under the Stars and Stripes are all too often treated entirely differently than its flag.
All you have to do is flip through the headlines – racism, classism, abuse, murder, rape, crime, poverty. But it is so much more insidious than even that. We are selfish and inward focused. If we bother to notice people outside of our “inner circle” it’s only to take stock of how they compare to us… they are the measurement of our success or failure. We are casually cruel to the immigrants and the poor. There is very little compassion for anyone who falls outside of our tidy guidelines. We don’t see people. We see “dirty (insert nationality here)” or “white trash” or “rich bitch” … the list goes on and on. As a nation and as individuals, we work very hard to keep outsiders out and insiders in. Everyday someone’s dignity and humanity is violated by our unthinking disregard. But the flag never touches the ground.
It’s interesting – when I say ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag…’ I am giving assent to beautiful ideals – the unity of a nation and justice for all of her people – but they are so lofty and so soaring that they are almost vague … too easily disregarded on a personal level. I’ve been thinking lately, what if we changed the words? What if we pledged allegiance to the people of our country instead of her flag? “I pledge allegiance to the people of the United States of America, and to the Republic in which they stand, one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” Now that is a scarily personal pledge. I give my loyalty to my neighbor, I promise fealty to the landscaper, I will live in unity with the woman in the hajib. I will notice the injustice my fellow American suffers for being black, brown, disabled, poor, uneducated, old or young, and I will stand against it and fight with them for equality. There is nothing vague about those things. Imagine what our country would look like if every child grew up pledging allegiance to each other every morning? What if we treated the people in America with as much respect, dignity and care as we treat the flag?