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There's more to patriotism than the flag

By Minx McCloud

I don't have a flag. Let's make that perfectly clear. I've never owned a flag and even in light of the attack on America, I don't intend to trudge from store to store searching for one.

A friend gave me a little red white and blue lapel ribbon, which I pop on to my blouse when I remember to, and I used my desktop printer to make a flag for my car window. I have a broadsheet printed flag from a New Jersey newspaper on the front window of my house, and that's pretty much it.

My neighbor, a World War II veteran, takes exception to the fact that I don't have a cloth version of Old Glory waving proudly from my flagpole. I don't even have a flagpole.

A flag is merely a symbol. It's a beautiful symbol, yes, but displaying one doesn't automatically make you a patriot, or even a good citizen.

"So don't you think it's about time you got a flag?" he said to me a few days ago. I stifled the impulse to tell him that it seems that the only time he ever stops to talk to me is when my dandelions are blowing spores on his finely trimmed lawn. Now he's questioning my patriotism.

"Just haven't gotten around to it," I said with an apologetic smile. He harrumphed. I never really knew what that word meant, but try to imagine a sound like someone clearing their throat combined with the noise a camel might make when that last heavy pack is put on his back for a long trip across the desert.

"Well, you know, this is the time to show that you're a true American," he growled. "Better get a flag."

Or what? Is the CIA going to drag me off to an internment camp? Are the neighbors going to wave pitchforks and torches outside my house? Frankly, I think that the reason this guy takes out his miserable moods on me is that I've been taught to respect my elders, so I don't tell him to buzz off. Bullies need acquiescent victims.

There were things I wanted to say to him that I didn't.

A flag is merely a symbol. It's a beautiful symbol, yes, but displaying one doesn't automatically make you a patriot, or even a good citizen.

I show that I am a good American every time I pay my taxes and don't look for a way to cheat. I get tears in my eyes when I see the flag flying high, even though it may not be on my house. I get a lump in my throat every time I hear "The Star Spangled Banner." Always did, even before this happened. But I don't own a flag.

I tried to show my patriotism in other ways. A much-loved fellow from my borough was missing, and the local Little League kids erected a shrine to his memory. At the request of a council member, I went from house to house in my neighborhood asking people to display a blue ribbon and pray for him. At each house, everyone had a story to tell, it seemed, and after covering 20 houses, I was shell-shocked by grief, but I kept thinking about what the rescuers and victims' families were going through.

I brought a shovel and other supplies to the local police department, as they were authorized to take a shipment into Manhattan. I prayed and attended several vigils in surrounding towns. I made additional flags for my friends who wanted something, anything, for their cars.

Doing those things doesn't make me better than anyone else. We are all doing what we can. We're taking baby steps.

Remember never to display a flag after dark, except when it is illuminated; and never in bad weather, unless it is designed specifically for all-weather use.
However, I must tell you that my neighbor, who was so adamant about displaying the flag, sat in the local VFW hall and told anyone who would listen that President Bush was a "little pissant" and we were all doomed. He had hung his flag, and now it was time to toss back a few scotches and play Monday morning quarterback. I don't condemn him for this. He is 80 years old and this is just the way he is, but I don't think he should criticize his neighbors for not displaying a flag.

In my life, I have been on both sides of the flag. When I was in college, I protested our country's policies. I didn't approve of the Vietnam War. When I saw soldiers return from combat, bloodied and disillusioned, I did an about face and supported them. Wishy-washy? Yes, I suppose it was, but I followed my heart.

I never burned a flag or wore it on my butt, but I suppose that in my own way, I disrespected it just by protesting. There were times I criticized my country, made fun of its leaders, and rallied for peace.

You can tell me I should own a flag, and you may be right. The simple fact is, I don't. You can tell me that my little paper flag is tacky, and you're probably right. It's all I have right now. You can tell me that the dollar bills I'm giving the kids who are selling Kool-Aid for the cause are just a drop in the bucket. I agree, but if everyone gives a few dollars, we can move mountains. You can tell me I was very naive when I was in college, and I'll probably agree with that too. I was a kid and lessons are learned the hard way.

But don't you dare call me unpatriotic.

Minx McCloud is a free-lance journalist who writes about life in New Jersey. She can be reached at To see her most recent column, click here.

This article is copyright 2001 by Minx McCloud and appears here with both her permission and the permission of The Princeton Packet.

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