For the first time, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
At dawn’s early light on this Fourth of July, I arose to launch my own Independence Day tradition — prepping meat for the smoker — and saw the household American flag, rolled up around its staff and leaning in the corner of our home’s foyer, where it lives. In the stillness of the morning, it seemed to be asking the question.
Are we flying today, or not?
Later, I thought. Maybe later.
I’m not a flag-waving sort but consider myself a determined, skeptical patriot. And that is why, at the risk of being mistaken for some blowhard gun fetishist with a gaudy version of Old Glory flapping in the bed of a jacked-up 4x4, the flag has always flown on the front porch on the Fourth.
Some years, it’s displayed with pride at things we the people have done. But mostly I've seen it as a sign of hope and steely resolve to not let it be corrupted by forces of bigotry and hate.
Either way: The flag has flapped there, next to a rhododendron, for the two-decade-plus lifespan of our house.
It draped through the end of the Clinton era, marked by what then seemed a scandalous last-minute pardon of a billionaire fugitive financier friend, and a federal deficit, just under $6 billion, that seemed like a lot of money. It flew through the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and all the baggage we still carry from it.
It hung there through the slow-rolling car crash that was the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Bush years. The bloodlust invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the disastrous occupation of Iraq and the inexplicable reelection of a man who then seemed an unprecedented Oval Office dunce.
In 2008, it stood through a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution protects an individual's right to possess a gun, with the proviso that the ruling "is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
It flew yearly through revived hopes with the ascension of Barack Obama, the legalization of same-sex marriage in increasing numbers of states, the long fight and ultimately flawed compromise of a new national health care plan — and a growing national seething among far-fight groups over liberalism in general, and collisions of public policy and race in particular.
The flag hung tough through Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, raising alarm and rampant inaction over rising greenhouse gases that threaten our children’s existence, Occupy Wall Street, Obama’s reelection, the shooting of Gabby Giffords, the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary, the poisonous ascension of social media as a daily “news” platform, Wikileaks and the Charleston Church massacre.
Through the Trump years, that flag, at least in my mind, spat stars and stripes in the face of the rise of global right-wing nationalism, the horrific racist police shootings of countless unarmed Black Americans and the flooding of the nation with what amounts to military-grade arms, opening the doors to the now-yesterday's-news massacres of Las Vegas, rural Texas, Parkland, Florida; on and on. It hung tough through dual failed impeachments and an attempted government coup by the President of the United States.
Twenty-two years, the flag was trotted out, even on occasions of choking wildfire smoke I feared would never air out of its fibers, but, shoot, it was by then part of the national fabric. Seemed a worthy exercise.
But this year brought additional daily mass shootings, the minority-rule takeover of the Supreme Court and all that portends. And well, people have limits.
A look back years from now might reveal that a national breaking point came midday Monday, with the news-flash announcement of yet another mass murder by yet another young, white male, somehow-aggrieved miscreant in Middle America. Highland Park. Amid all the rest of it, remember the day and the latest punch to your gut.
Given the rage flowing through the national bloodstream and legally guaranteed access to rapid-firing arms the founders of America could never have imagined, what sane person can feel safe in this country in any public setting? Some of us cling to hope that emerging national discussions about finally "declaring independence" from the mythology of our founders — who if alive today would never stop laughing, or possibly wrenching, at our foolish, time-warp adherence to their 246-year-old governance solution — might finally take hold.
But supply chain issues for optimism are real.
A Twitter user I'll never meet nor ever forget on Monday lamented the loss of innocence of even a daily walk at a local park: "All I could think about today was where could we hide from a shooter in this beautiful open space.”
And then this, from a parade bystander, reported by The Washington Post:
Another witness, Richard Isenberg, 77, was sitting with his family in a stand along Central Avenue “where we always sit.” When gunfire erupted, the family ran to a nearby shopping center and hunkered down with others. People were running in all directions, he said.
“It’s something you watch on television, but you don’t think you’ll see it in your own life,” Isenberg said. “Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday of the year. I don’t think that’ll be the way anymore. We’ve come to our last parade.”
Truth and crystal clarity, arising from shock.
I went home and stared at that flag and for the first time ever told it to shut the hell up and stand by. People have limits. So, too, nations.
I’ll leave the flag there, in the corner, for now. But I fear that every time I glance its way I’ll be asking the only pressing political question that now seems to matter:
What is the future of a people who have already attended their Last Parade?
The answer means everything. Because it’s hard to imagine that in our darkest moments of candor, many of us haven’t already subtly shifted from fretting about how to shape tomorrow’s America to pondering how best to simply survive what we've allowed it to become.
Ron Judd's column appears on Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: roncjudd.