I’m in the garage, and I see our old American flag standing at attention in the cobwebbed corner. I decide, for 2011, I want to fly it out in front of the house. We insert it into our flag holder, and it waves in the wind to greet the neighborhood like a long lost friend. I explain to our children why I want to do this in the New Year.
As a symbol of citizenship, the flag represents a value I want our family to espouse in 2011. We are citizens–of our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, churches, state, nation, and world. We live responsibly, honestly, and interdependently. We give honor to the ones who protect our freedom, and we thank God for the privileges we enjoy. The flag reminds us to live in a way that embodies the ideals of our local, national, and global communities.
My husband tells the family that the flag represents that we live for more than just ourselves.
If I had a bugle, I might play an anthem or “To the Colors.” We could salute and show respect in the morning and again at night when we take the flag inside. At Camp Greystone, where I served as a counselor for 6 years, the flag raising and lowering ceremony can bring tears to your eyes as you observe hundreds of children and adults, still and silent, honoring the symbol of our citizenship.
So I put the flag out. I’m a citizen of a great nation, and in this New Year, I don’t want to take it for granted. We’ll fly it every morning in a moment of stillness and silence, thankfulness and respect.
In my neighborhood, we all gather at the small Baptist church to vote. We come and line up, all of us representing different party affiliations. I love this moment, and sometimes I’ve even been known to cry right there in the line.
I’m one very tiny voice in a very large democracy. My ballot represents my voice in this system, and I come out of duty. Here we are–all of us together–participating in this supreme right of citizenship.
I’m in line, and I notice that nothing is happening. We aren’t moving along. I look ahead, and I see an elderly woman so hunched over with age that nobody can see her face. She’s propped up by a helper on her left and a cane in her right hand. Her movements are painfully slow. The folks working the polls stop everything to assist her. A chorus of helpers ask: Can she make it over to her booth? Is the booth too high? Can she hold the pen and cast her vote?
It’s like slow motion. When we observe her, we all start rooting for her. Volunteers call her by name to make sure she can reach the booth. We are all participating in this moment now. This woman needs to cast her vote. Nothing will thwart her. The moment takes on a weight I wasn’t prepared to experience.
It’s a beautiful moment. I feel suddenly aware of my own lack of interest in this particular election. I’m aware of how inconvenient it felt for me to drive over to the church and stand in line. I’m saddened by the fact that I had to print out a voter’s guide because I didn’t recognize half the names of the candidates on the ballot.
The woman who nobody could stop from voting has a name and a story. She has an opinion and a voice that shapes our nation. Her presence makes me realize another way I want to live with flair. I need to show up and participate as a citizen. And I need to help others do the same. You have a name, an opinion, and a story we need to hear to help make our nation great.