Thursday, April 22, 2010
Lessons from an old man, my boy, and the American flag
Photo courtesy of Ted Linczak
Life was a lot simpler when I didn’t know what I know now. Before I started paying attention, before I spent my nights reading and educating myself, and certainly before I became one of millions accused of being a racist and a homophobe because I sought to protect the Constitution.
It gets exhausting having to defend yourself of something you’re not. To deal with the emails, calls and texts with veiled and not so veiled threats because of your participation in a movement. Some of which you discover, are from your very own family and friends. Then to add insult to injury, your own government comes out and calls soldiers, and tea partiers, right wing extremists. It’s easy to want to stick your head in the sand and hope it all goes away. That’s how I felt this morning. That is, before I watched the innocent exchange between my toddler, and an old man at Home Depot that put everything back into perspective again…
My three year old is obsessed with the American flag. After I recorded the song “Freedom”, he would insist on watching the video over and over again. I think that’s where my boy fell in love with Old Glory…
My son knows where all the American flags are in town and points them all out when we pass one by. I’ve endured many meltdowns in the car because I wouldn’t turn around so he could “hold the flag.” And no amount of reasoning can convince him that he can’t hold a flag that rests on a 50 foot flagpole. Many times he’s had tantrums in stores because he wants to a take all the flags home. He sleeps with his collection at night, and then carts them around all day. My neighbors have to wonder about this kid of mine, who spends hours moving his flags in and out of every garden bed we have, and cheers when the wind kicks up and they flap around.
I'm learning to pick my battles. So a couple weeks ago, I told him he could take ONE of his flags in the stores. Who knew that a little boy walking around a store carrying an American flag on a stick could get so many double-takes, odd looks, and lots of smiles.
Today we headed into Home Depot, my son following behind me like a little duckling, with his American flag in hand. We're in an aisle when I noticed a very old man that kept staring at us. My son was running up and down the aisle saying “Look Mom, I have a beautiful American flag.” He’d raise it above his head and scream “Weeeeeeeee” as it flapped around as he ran. Finally the old man says to me “That boy of yours is a sight for sore eyes.”
He told me how kids aren’t taught to love our country and respect the flag anymore and that seeing my son made his day. He told me he never imagined our Country would be hijacked by socialism and corruption. All the while he keeps looking over at my sweet boy who by that time had stuck his flag in a display box, and was yelling, “Look Mom, my beautiful American flag is standing up all by itself.” The old man smiled and said that he hoped I kept up the fight because America was worth it.
As he started to walk away, he hesitated, turned back around and pulled his arm out of his jacket pocket to reveal a hook where his hand used to be and said very simply, “I was in Korea.” As soon as I saw that, tears weld in my eyes. All I could say was “Thank you for serving our country,” he said nothing, just quietly turned and walked away.
I sat in the parking lot for a few moments thinking about that old man, and I’m not ashamed to say that I wept. This man, a Korean War veteran, no doubt saw and experienced and sacrificed more than I can ever comprehend. 36,000 American soldiers died in Korea, with another 8,000 MIA. After surviving that, burying friends, and losing a limb, how he must feel to live to witness the undoing of the Freedoms so valiantly fought for. Which is why, I know now, he couldn't take his eyes of the sweet sight of an innocent boy so enamored with the flag he fought so bravely for.