With Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day being in February, it seems appropriate to consider “love of country” and our flag, for just as a special ring on one’s finger symbolizes love and devotion to another, so too does the American flag symbolize the same toward our beloved nation.
The Stars and Stripes represents something greater than a token banner displayed on holidays; it stands for a unique idea that is America—a nation founded upon the notion that life and liberty are precious and inseparable, and that the full value of the former is only fully realized under the blessing of the latter.
The Americans with the fullest understanding and appreciation of what our flag represents are the patriots who have fought, are fighting, or who may one day fight under its banner. These are the men and women of our armed forces, first responders, and their families.
And while some suggest it ought to again be deemed a crime to deface the American flag—something that was once the case but later determined unconstitutional—I’d say that just like that ring on one’s finger, the only way the symbolism of devotion is meaningful and relevant is when it is honored voluntarily. With all due respect to those who think otherwise, I’d bet those patriots just mentioned would likely be the first to defend any American who might choose to burn the flag. Indeed, burning or trampling upon Old Glory is protected “free speech”—but just because one has the freedom to do something doesn’t mean one should do something.
It is by a full, clear, and deep understanding of what our flag truly represents that those patriots defend the right of others to burn it, and it is what makes me and others repel at the very idea of ever disgracing it in any way.
While it is true that being critical of the flag is a protected right, it is also true that, just as there are customs of respect for those “special rings,” so too are there specific customs and practices that apply to our flag. For example, a damaged or faded flag ought to be replaced. It should not be flown in inclement weather, nor should it be displayed after sunset, unless it is illuminated.
Over the years, it has become a habit of mine to pay attention to American flags wherever I see them, and I am appalled at how poorly and carelessly they are often displayed, even over government buildings. Frequently, I see torn and ragged flags, un-illuminated flags at night, and flags flying during heavy rains.
In part, a ring symbolizes an eternal connection; a continuity of mutual respect and support that has no end. It doesn’t imply perfection nor demand it; it merely encourages each in the relationship to strive in a common direction—one defined by love.
Seeing as how not all of us serve in the military or as first responders, we ought to think of the American flag as the ring that binds us as citizens. According it due respect is just one simple way to show that same respect to those patriots who do serve.