When out walking our dogs lately — they alternate walks since together they are stinkers — I have noticed an intensifying number of American flags being displayed.
We’re flag-flyers and my immediate feeling, seeing four or five consecutive homes with the Stars and Stripes in the wind, was appreciation. But as Hugo (mixed poodle mutt) or Rue (golden doodle) and I neared home, I wasn’t inclined to go into the front hall closet, pull out the flag and display it in a sort of unifying declaration against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do I feel unified with my neighbors? Absolutely. With my colleagues here at the Journal? Yes. I feel connected to Oak Park and River Forest with the straight information officials pump out and the ways residents are connecting. I feel kinship with the city of Chicago and a mayor who is tough as nails but surprises me with a sense of humor and delights me as a true White Sox fan. I even feel part of the state of Illinois — shout-out to Rantoul and Dwight and Cairo — portions of the state I have always felt bifurcated from.
So if I had a Chicago flag (and it’s a darned good flag) or a State of Illinois flag (have no recollection of it but it must exist), I’d happily display them from the porch.
I’m stuck though, and pretty sick that I’m stuck, on the American flag.
I’ve flown the flag when it felt that those on the right wanted to question my right to it.
We broke it out after 9/11. We flew it at the start of the Iraq war. (Yes, I know.) It was up for months when the economy imploded in 2008. When conflict came, flying the flag was succor for our savaged hearts, a declaration of faith in our collective future.
Today the pain of the pandemic is more massive than any of those conflicts. More death and illness. More danger on the frontlines of health care.
As data accumulates, the disheartening, unsurprising truth is that our health and our illness is separating us, as always, by class and by race. The percentage of African Americans dying of the virus is completely disproportionate to the population. It is access to health care, which isn’t fair or equal. It is working people still stocking shelves or cooking takeout at great risk, while newspaper publishers can pound a keyboard from safe havens.
We face pervasive and justifiable fear. An economy screeched to a standstill. In reality, near full uncertainty on a timeline for recovery. It isn’t going to be by Easter, obviously.
And all of this under the leadership of a president who is frighteningly incompetent, personally failed, who can’t tell the truth to save our lives, and who will go to his ruin still trying to divide us.
Well I’m divided. Fully divided. Don’t have it in me to declare unity with the utter chaos his government has brought to a widely predicted pandemic. Can’t watch the news. Can’t stop watching the news. Absolutely cannot watch his daily unreality show in the late afternoon. Can’t believe the cable channels give up almost two hours a day for his lies and his blathering.
In this horror show, in my reaction to it as reflected in our glorious flag, I am not alone.
And so to every person flying the Stars and Stripes, bless you. I’ll credit you with being a better person than I am in this moment. But I just don’t have it in me.