Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Patriotic Wildflowers

Christopher Gray reflects on flying the flag:

They sprang up in a day, like April wildflowers. Big ones, small ones, expensive ones, cheap ones, linen, cotton, polyester—there were even color printouts from the Web. Five years later, the American flags that covered the city in red, white, and blue have almost all faded away.

I had long suspended a flag on the wall outside my office, between the two windows—I loved how the wind would lift it up, splashing the room with red and blue. So I was a touch proprietary about the flags that popped out after 9/11—it fits my sinful pride to feel superior to all the Patriot-Come-Latelys. But I was also happy to see them, as if in one of Childe Hassam’s World War I paintings—not just on Fifth Avenue, but across the city. To judge from photographs from the 1940s, New York had a hundred times the flags displayed in 2001 than flew during the “Good War.”

I had never liked flag wavers. But I began to respond to the flag after working up-country in Nigeria in 1975. When I returned to the U.S., I realized that we were so rich. Not money so much as infrastructure: courts, roads, sewage, telephone lines, health systems, and, especially, a tradition of fairness and freedom—what a privilege to live here! This vegetarian hippie kissed the ground at JFK.

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