Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Conversation with a Flag or A Brautigan Moment

I spotted a flag flapping in the breeze at half-mast. I stared for only a moment. As I prepared to walk away it said: “Where are you going?”

“Back to work,” I replied.

“You barely noticed me.”

“I saw you well enough.”

“What about my fraying edge? Did you see that?”

“The wind whips the cloth,” I said, “and eventually the fabric rips.”

“Because I’m tethered to this pole. If I were free, my outer edge would not be hostage to the wind. I am in bondage, in slavery. It frays my soul.”

“If you were free, you’d blow away.”

“Would that be bad?”

“You are a flag,” I said, “a symbol. You are needed here.”

“What about my colors?” it asked. “See how they have faded?”

“The sun is strong,” I said. “It beats down on you and causes the dye to break down.”

“It wounds me, as the strong ever harms the weak. It forces its will upon me, diminishing me by its very presence.”

“We cannot fight nature.”

The breeze stiffened, making the flag look like it was laughing. “You fight it every day,” the flag said.

“What do you know?” I said. “You are only a flag.”

“And why are my stars and stripes gray?”

“The rain carries tiny particles of dirt that stick to your stitches,” I answered. “Eventually, those bits of dirt accumulate and darken your white colors.”

“I have been sullied. I no longer shine as a beacon of hope. I am less than I was, tainted by the elements.”

“You are still a flag,” I said. “Still a symbol, even if you are no longer a perfect flag.”

“Ah, but that is the point,” the flag said. “I am a perfect representation of America. I am what you made me, barely noticed, decaying with the passage of time. You forget me at your peril.”

“But I saw you.”

“Yes, but you didn’t even ask why.”

“Why what?”

“Why I am flying at half-mast. Do you even care?”

“I care,” I said. “But it does not consume my every thought. I assume some soldier or public servant has died, someone who contributed greatly to our republic, and you are flying at half-mast so we will remember that person’s sacrifice.”

“But you don’t even know who it is.”

“So? How many thousands died for this country? There are too many to count.”

The breeze shifted, making the flag look like it was shaking its head. “You are a perfect representation of your compatriots. You take, but you do not give. You occasionally speak fine words about my country but you do not put it first or even second in your thoughts. You lift yourself above it. And when you do finally take some action that you have convinced yourself is patriotic, you commit a multitude of sins in the holy name of liberty. You are selfish and small and one day you will no longer be here.”

“Be quiet,” I commanded. “You are only a flag. You cannot speak. You’re just a symbol.”

I stared at the flag for a while longer, daring it to respond, but it only flapped in the breeze at half-mast.


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