11 September 2014

The Flag

Our school had a flag changing ceremony outside today in honor of 9/11.  While I watched, several postcards of images came to mind.


One was me in my Algebra class, hearing rumors.  "A plane hit the World Trade Center."  "The World Trade Center was bombed."  "A plane accidentally hit the World Trade Center!"

The what?  I hadn't ever been to New York.  Hadn't ever paid enough attention to business or architecture to really understand what that meant.  Not wanting to appear ignorant, I talked about it along with everyone else in hushed tones.

After we said The Pledge, our teacher turned on the news.  I think he had it on mute.  I remember watching moments after he turned on the TV as a second plane flew into the second tower.

The rest of the day was a blur of watching the planes hit the towers on a repeated reel over and over and over again.  The school was buzzing with conversation.  Looking back, I remember feeling sick over the whole thing but not really understanding why.  Maybe it was my American confidence stepping in and assuring me that, in the end, none of this would matter because we would "win".  Whatever that meant.


After a few months in England, my friend Liz and I were exploring Paris.  While the rest of her family was at Disneyland Paris, we were determined to continue our cultural exploration no matter our youth or inexperience or the language barrier.  Liz with her virtually nonexistent French and me with my long ago two years of meagerly attempted high school French roamed streets without a map in search of art museums and churches.  We came across the US Embassy.  Perhaps it was the lack of hearing much English that day (which always makes me feel terribly claustrophobic and crippled), but I've never been so happy to see a piece of fabric in my life.


For several years I spent my summer playing make believe.  Dressed in period clothing, I would go sit in the school house of a local museum designed to teach about country life during the late 1800s.  Some were assigned to houses or stores and had people to socialize with.  I was the schoolmarm, left to my own devices until the replacement volunteer came along.  I didn't mind.  Armed with knowledge gleaned from years of obsession over Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, I knew my duties.  The schoolhouse was set outside of the main part of town and, as a result, often forgotten by tourists.  As a result, I would regularly be left for hours without any connection to humans, but I would still carefully go about my responsibilities.  I would open each window in the hopes of a nice breeze.  I would sweep the floor and brush away cobwebs.  I would make sure that the slates were neatly stacked and the books organized by grade and the slate pencils put away.  Often I would write my name on the board.  (Often I would write "Ann" just so I could add the "e".)

The task I remember most was that of raising and lowering the flag outside the school at the beginning and end of each shift.  There was something peaceful about this task.

This is what I thought about most this morning.  I watched a group of scouts professionally and carefully raise the flag and felt a bit jealous.  Every year this task is carried out by boys.  My feminist heart protested, and remembered the way I would carry the flag outside each day and raise it alone, taking great care to make sure that it didn't touch the ground.  Later, I would lower it and fold it as well as I could by myself.  It wasn't as professional or formal as the ceremony today, but the reverence of doing this by myself felt important.

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