Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Flag

There are days when my relationship with the US flag is a conflicted one.  By turns, I both love and hate this emblem of our country.  There is such a pull to it, holding us tight, demanding that we give and give and give, and so rarely giving back.  Then there are the days when I am so proud to be a citizen of this country, that the pure and lonesome beauty of its stars and stripes nearly brings me to weeping.

It is a powerful thing, that flag.  Over 20 years ago, he raised his right hand and swore to uphold it, to fight for it, and to die by it if necessary.  Over 20 years ago, I made a vow to him, which in turn binds me to that selfsame flag.  Our children have made sacrifices because of his original oath, and have grown up stronger for it.  And yet…

Our lives are very different from what I had grown up imagining our lives to be, and certainly different from that of most Americans.  

Most Americans, when they hear the National Anthem, or they recite the Pledge, do so unfettered, unbound by its power.  There are some, not all, who realize and appreciate fully the freedoms they enjoy because our country is a unique one.  They are proud, loyal, and steadfast.  Some, I am sad to say, are blithely uncaring, or unaware, or both. 

Most Americans are not asked to fully support that flag.

And most Americans would surely not die for that flag.

Most Americans do not move because their country needs it.  They do not go without their families for months, years at a time because their country demands it.  They do not serve at the needs of the Army, nor at the needs of any part of this great country.  They do not bathe the flag in blood, sweat or tears.

Most Americans do not occasionally hate the demands that their flag puts on them, because most Americans have not had much demanded of them.

There is much to say that is good and positive and right about this country.  All of those reasons, plus family tradition, are the inspiration for my husband’s original and continued oath.  Those are the predominant reasons he has stayed with this service, and we have all given so much.  We are free to do so much that in other countries is forbidden, or unavailable, or unheard-of.  We are freer than free, in so many of the ways that count.  Speech, Religion, Press, Self-protection.  Some days it feels as though those freedoms are under attack by the very forces that are supposed to uphold them, yet still they endure.

Most Americans pay absolutely nothing for this tremendous privilege, short of grumbling at the tax office.  Freedoms are, by their nature, not free.  Their cost is far deeper than a monetary one.  Their cost cannot be purchased except through the unfailing loyalty of those who have promised their lives to it.

Some days, that cost seems far too high.  Some days, that cost makes me weep for the lost days and months and years that we have sacrificed.  Some days, I could hate that flag. 

Most Americans do not understand.  They do not see the conflict that pulls at our military families, where fealty to “home” and “country” must constantly be an either-or, all-or-nothing choice.  Many Americans blithely say, “Well, at least it isn’t…” or “It could be worse,” not realizing that each change and each sacrifice must be weighed on an individual occurrence.  Gone is gone, and we miss the time we might have spent together.  Let us grieve a moment, let us feel comforted and not forgotten while we are half of the family we once were.

I am proud of the choices that we have made, to follow and support and remain loyal to this great country and that beautiful, terrible flag.  Most days, I would not change a thing except to be more appreciative of the freedoms it represents.  But there are times, when the anthem plays and the flag is flown, that my heart aches inside at the price we have paid.

There are days, I will admit, when there is no comfort there.


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