by Steve Spain
Somewhere in a run-down, depressed, roach-infested tenement, a nineteen-year-old single mother awakens in a stupor to feed her three children, their three different fathers in prisons or other women’s beds. Her pantry bears nearly no food for the hungry little mouths. She flicks on her LCD large-screen flat-panel TV, escaping into some trashy, mindless, vapid programming. She picks up the fancy iPhone for which she has never had to pay a bill and, as she sinks into the plush couch where she has worn the fabric within the outline of her ever-growing posterior, she laments to her friend that the SNAP and WIC programs do not provide well enough for her children. Somebody needs to pay, she says. She bemoans her station in life with every hacked-up sentence stabbing daggers into the corpus of literature that would otherwise showcase the beauty of the language she cannot be bothered to learn.
Elsewhere, a few dozen zealots arm themselves with signs and practice their mindless chants as they prepare to stage a media spectacle. They will soon prostitute themselves in front of sensation-craving cameras and howl for some new set of “rights” some activist made up. Anyone who dares to disagree with them, they convince themselves, could only be the type that must endure the pain of a dark, dank, hateful soul. They pay no heed to the fact that the “rights” for which they scream and cry have no basis in law, nor in morality, nor in the Constitution. And tomorrow, they will gear up with the same slogans on different colored signs, the same demands in new rhymes, and will decry their “hating” detractors as they protest for some other unverifiable–not unalienable–right they the have decided to be more important than those definitively codified in the Bill of Rights. To them, as their beloved talking heads remind them, the Constitution is passé.
In a small town, in a nearly-forgotten chapel on the main highway, a pastor looks out at the sun rising over the fields. The time was, he recalls, that he’d have convened a worship service that morning during which the faithful would have had the rafters ringing with joyous strains of “amber waves of grain” and “purple mountains’ majesty”. But, with his flock lost to the siren call of excess in the form of alcohol, entertainment, sloth, sex, gang life, or some other dissipated lifestyle, he has only the sounds of his breathing and the creaking floorboards at his feet to keep him company. Wistfully, he surveys his beloved town, until his eye catches a derelict barn wall besmirched with graffiti in the shape of male genitalia. With a pang of anger, he darts his head away, but quickly shuts his eyes. He dares not look up the highway toward the creek where his darling seventeen-year-old niece, high on her favorite drug of that particular week, shattered her car and her body on a bridge abutment. He steps inside, slams the door shut behind him, collapses into the last pew, and sobs.
And yet, dawn breaks on a glorious summer day across America.
A father and mother scurry to wake, feed, and dress their three bleary-eyed children. Last night’s barbecue kept the family out late, but the time spent celebrating the homecoming of a decorated sailor helped instill in their children a sense of pride and showed them an honorable calling to which they might aspire. The mother picks up the shiny iPhone for which she had the budget to pay on her own. She checks her work email quickly, rolls her eyes at a minor work nuisance, and ticks away a quick email to solve the problem. Before she sets down her phone, she starts a playlist of patriotic music. The father chides the brood along, “Hurry up,” he calls, “don’t make us late for the start of the parade!” The three children emerge from the two bedrooms in their house, bickering about one or the other being in the way. Their father knows that his role in the development of his company’s new product, proudly made in the USA, will soon enable his family to live in a house with bedrooms for each child. As the children’s ears catch a resounding “hooray for the red, white, and blue”, their mother hands them each a small flag to wave as the parade floats amble past. They chime in and sing as their mother taught them the week before, and the family proudly sets out the front door toward Main Street.
In a VA hospital, a combat veteran of two wars dons the medal-emblazoned coat of his dress uniform. A nurse raps at his door to bring his morning dose of medication. “Oh,” she pauses in her steps, “I suppose you will need some help to the bus.” “Yes, please,” he replies. “Take these for me, and I’ll make sure we have a wheelchair here for you at 0820.” He smirks at her wholly unnecessary but happily familiar use of military time. The nurse thanks him for his service as she leaves, and he thanks her for her support, an expression of gratitude far more meaningful now as his health has begun to fail. Before he has time to think about it, however, his granddaughter enters the room. She will join the ROTC next year at college, and he swells with pride to see her. “Hi, grandpa,” she calls to him, “I brought us a little something!” She holds out a small paper bag, which she presents to the old man. His large, wrinkled hands eclipse her dainty fingers as he grasps the handles of the sack. Fishing inside, he finds two party horns, his granddaughter’s favorite festive noisemakers from the days when she was barely old enough to figure out how to use them–and use them and use them until everyone in the house had a throbbing headache. Again, he smirks. And he notices something else against the paper wall of the bag. His hand fishes back in to retrieve what turns out to be one of his family’s most treasured mementos. His vision failing, he strains at the photograph of his dear brother who died in combat, but he still manages to make out the stars and the stripes proud in the wind at the top of a nearby flagstaff. With his tired eyes now welling up with tears, he pulls his spine as straight as he can muster and snaps a salute, both to the brother he loved and to the brilliant red, white, and blue that he can see even through the monochrome of the sepia-toned image. “Come on, grandpa,” the girl interrupts, checking her hair in the mirror and not noticing her grandfather’s reverential gesture, “we don’t want to be late!” He slips the photograph silently into his breast pocket, and she takes one of the noisemakers as an orderly arrives with a wheelchair at the doorway. Giving her hand to him, she walks at his side to the bus that will take them to the staging area. He has chosen her to ride with him in a classic car much like one he once owned, his name and rank on a banner on each side of the vehicle above the words, “Grand Marshal”.
About twenty minutes out of town, a dedicated group of eight outdoors types pull up to a hill frequented by local target shooters. A few of the many others who use the site as a makeshift shooting range are untidy and leave their tattered targets, food wrappers, ammunition packages, and, discouragingly, empty beer bottles strewn around the basin. Instead of loading up their firearms on arrival, though, this group slips on work gloves and opens up garbage bags. In a half an hour’s time, the team of them has gathered most of the refuse abandoned there, including an oversized and heavy old console television. “That’s pretty much what I think of the evening news, too,” one of them remarked while hefting the cumbersome cabinet onto the back of a truck, “but unlike those propagandists, I’ll do what I can to help things!” With the litter corralled and a bit of time to spare, the eight all exchange one knowing glance and peel off their gloves. Back to their vehicles they race to retrieve an assortment of paper targets and stands, pistols or rifles, and just a little bit of ammo. They put on safety gear, clear the range, and approach the firing line. Of the eight, one serves as range master. “Commence fire!” he shouts, and they each squeeze off a round. Seven shots ring out together, and the hair on the back of the range master’s neck stands on end. “Fire!” he shouts again, and to him comes the reply of seven more shots. “Fire!” he calls out once more, and seven reports echo back off the hill. They hadn’t planned what had just taken place, but the friends performed an unplanned twenty-one gun salute and knew instinctively there was no need for further practice that day. They laughed at their coincidental honorary gesture, they packed their things, they left no mess at the range, and they left for town, eager to set up the portable chairs they would normally use while out at a shoot. Today, they would set up next to the town’s fire station where they would be sure to see every float in the parade.
Whether in a photograph, in a child’s hand, on a lanyard at the peak of a mast, or tightly and reverentially folded to a sharp point in a wood-and-glass case in honor of a loved one, she remains a grand old flag. There are those in this society who revere her, those who will take up the fight for her on the home front, those who still believe she stands for worthy ideals. And there are those who give in, give their efforts to false causes, or give up and cede their rights to live off the taxpayers’ largesse. How long she may wave depends on those of us who revere her and revere the land for which she stands. Two hundred forty years ago, brave souls fought against a crippling, crushing culture and won their independence. Today, the fight is not to win independence, the fight is to give it to those who cannot see that they have lost it. It only takes giving our cause a resolute voice. Each and every one of us with a patriotic heart must add our voices to the cry for our continued freedom. And we will triumph.