It was a few months ago. A beautiful summer evening, a football stadium, a gentle breeze and most of all, a beautiful red, white and blue flag against a bright blue sky. The national anthem is playing. As I stood with my hand over my heart, I thought about that flag and all that it’s seen over the last 243 years. I imagined it chuckling at the mention of the apocryphal story of George Washington asking Betsy Ross to sew it into being – its true birth being the Continental Congress resolution creating it on June 14, 1777.
Some of what I’m sure the flag remembers:
In 1787, the pride that it must have felt at the Constitutional Convention, the delegates adopting one of the greatest documents in the history of the world, the United States Constitution.
In 1814, the pain it felt as the US Capitol is burned as it fled with President James Madison into the countryside.
The agony and rivers of tears it shed for the 600,000 dead as Americans killed Americans during the Civil War.
In 1863, how it rejoiced when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” in the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free”.
The compassion it felt as the millions of immigrants fleeing famine, oppression, religious intolerance, injustice and economic misery filed through the gates of Ellis Island under the watchful eyes of the Statue of Liberty.
In 1917, more tears as US soldiers gave their lives in the trenches of France to bring peace to the continent of Europe.
In 1944, so much pride in the courage of US soldiers braving the withering gunfire on the beaches of Normandy, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other places, once again not for spoils or territory but to bring freedom to the people of the world.
In 1968, sadness as Los Angeles and many other cities burn.
In 1969, unimaginable glee, happiness and pride to be the first flag planted on another celestial body.
In 2001, great sadness as America is attacked and the twin towers burn.
Our flag has experienced much over these 243 years. It’s been burned, stomped on and mocked. It’s laughed and wept. It’s swelled with pride over what the citizens of this amazing country have accomplished.
It’s never flown over a perfect country. It never will. Humans are incapable of perfection. But our flag presides over the greatest experiment in the history of the world – something never tried before. The first people to freely join together to create a union with rights endowed by their creator. That union has resulted in the most innovative, industrious, prosperous and generous people the world has ever known. A people who’ve rescued millions from poverty, oppression and disease.
But that flag I watched lazily waving over that football field, that flag is anxious and fearful. It doesn’t know if this experiment in freedom first expressed in the Magna Carta, and codified in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, will survive.
It’s waiting for us to decide.