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The Lingering Aftermath of 9-11

September 16, 2011

The day after the 9-11 attacks, many of the food court vendors at Union Station in Washington, DC, sported American flags at their counters and stands. Most of them were immigrants. Many of them middle eastern or Asian. So many were non-white. Looking at their faces, I could tell that they were more afraid in those days than I was, than the threat that most of us realistically faced in those days.


The flags hung like door post lambs blood, begging that the plague of scorn would pass by their houses. They remember the days of collective accusation from the Oklahoma City bombing that lasted until it was discovered that the attack was more associated with fair Christianity than Islam. “We are believers,” their flags said, as if they were more familiar with Christian Identity than much of America.


In the mean time, there was a quiet that hovered over a city that was usually busy with air traffic crisscrossing the sky and the hustle of the town that seems to think it is the most important city on earth. We had an excuse to be something other than ourselves for a while, and to be even more ourselves as we attempted to conceal who we had been all those days behind the tragedy and our facades of solemn sorrow.


So many points on our day-to-day walk were covered with flags. It was like seeing the streets of my childhood on Flag Day or the Fourth of July. Flag lined streets, house after house. We did not have a flag. But the grandsons and granddaughters of the German immigrants that dominated the city’s population—some of whom had kin folk in the outer reaches of the community’s geography that still spoke German, or something closer to that than the English of their brothers and sisters who moved into town—decided on the flag on their front step.


I was envious. One day, I asked my dad if we could get a flag for our house. I am sure he asked me what it meant to me to have a flag at our house—what did a flag mean, in general? What did it mean in front of the homes of so many of our neighbors? I am not sure I had a good answer to any of those questions. But in the quiet that hovered over the holiday streets, with no self-important traffic crossing in front of us, he had an answer to mine. “I don’t need a flag,” he said. “Everybody here knows I’m American.”


Most days, I do not need a flag. As this past week demonstrates, after ten years full of days after 9-11, we are still waving loud stripes and lonesome stars as if we do not know who we are. We will wave them until our arms are tired and then we will truly know.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2011 8:09 am

    Interesting. Like you, I believe I’ve noticed a propensity for those fearful of arousing suspicion as “outsiders” to become flag wavers. However, I don’t believe that translates directly into the notion that the only use for an American flag is for people who are afraid.

    As an artist, I love the symbology and stories surrounding the American flag, which arouses deep feelings of love and patriotism in my heart.

    Is it just me, or could it be true that you only tells stories about your father where he sounds a little cranky and a tad defensive?

    • September 16, 2011 12:17 pm

      I didn’t mean to portray a defensiveness. Defensive is one thing that my father is not. What was behind his statement was a disdain for superficial portrayals of important things, especially when they are used to create divisions among people.

      What he did and still does is stand up for himself and what he believes and important people. What he stands up for is some kind of integrity behind the symbols–that your American identity or Christianity says this: is that what you believe and how you act? The way people respond to my dad, he has show how she shares American values with people who live at least some version of approaching, the best they can, the ideal, more substantively than the flag waving and the “other” baiting.

      I used to love drawing and pasting the flag on things when I was a kid. Now, I like standing for the national anthem at baseball games, remembering the time when I was an athlete and we had gotten important enough so that they played it before our games–they played if for US? Wow.

      I like what a lot of artists do with the flag, now and before. Some of it is disturbing, and that is great. Some of it is dynamic and can say so much with its inclusion as the rest of their portrait.

      So, yes, it has more uses than defense. Where does pride come in? There’s a whole ‘nuther, discussion.

      • Joe permalink
        September 16, 2011 1:19 pm

        Remember the heat President Obama took during his campaign over not wearing a flag pin on the lapel of his suit coat? He held forth pretty much the same reasoning as your father — didn’t want it to be a superficial symbol. But the cries of “un-American!” and “not American!” became so strident and shrill, he put on the pin just to put an end to the distraction.

  2. September 16, 2011 12:43 pm

    Thank you.That is the kindest and most compassionate of offerings. I will make good use of it.

  3. September 16, 2011 1:46 pm

    Joe, that makes me wonder how much politics is in our daily lives–and why we think that any of us is not political.

  4. Lucy permalink
    September 16, 2011 2:22 pm

    I get goosebumps at the ballfield (unexplained!) and I cringe when the kids/ really anyone waves the flag– in what I believe is blind pride.

    The girls’ class (after school) made a big flag after discussing 9/11. I suppose this made the news of 9/11 easier for them. Perhaps I should forgive those that find comfort in the flag. Myself..I will find other ways..

  5. September 18, 2011 2:40 pm

    Love your dad’s answer. Love that he knows. And that he knows those around him know too, who he is.

    We should all be so centered, so knowing.

    I too wanted a flag. To put out on those summer holidays. Mostly because I like how the wind played with a flag, and it looked, well, festive.

    My dad’s answer was more practical. “Where we would put it? He asked me. We don’t have a flag pole.”

    If there had been a street lamp or a telephone pole in our front yard I’m sure he would have stapled one on it for me. But there wasn’t. Just a birch tree that was a little taller than at that point. And an old elm the neighbor’s son had been struck by lightning under.

  6. Terry (former Hungry) permalink
    September 18, 2011 3:38 pm

    After 9/11 my mother wanted a flag – I think she took comfort in the straight forward symbolism of loving our country. To my parents’ credit, they took it down every night, and put it back up in the mornings. It felt like a child’s lovey to me.

    Recently I’ve become very aware of the flag because I’m working in a school and the children all say the pledge of allegiance. Since I feel it is hypocritical of me to say some of the words, I find myself silent, every single morning considering how to show respect for the flag without denying my beliefs. I find myself cynically hoping I won’t find my job/internship in jeopardy because of a sentence that I consider jingoistic propaganda.

    Now the anthem, that brings me to tears. (At least when it’s sung decently.)

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