Oct. 1, 2017, was a dark day in America, as the shooting in Las Vegas demonstrated that evil continues to exist in the world. Lives filled with promise were tragically ended, while other lives were forever altered by injury, trauma or the loss of a loved one. The nation groped in the darkness for answers, healing, hope and peace. For me, the answers were surprisingly found in the flag.
The evening after the Las Vegas shooting, I found myself in our nation's capital. As I reflected on the tragedy, my heart was heavy. I began to walk from the Capitol toward the Washington Monument. Gazing down the Mall, I saw a view I had never seen before. The buildings and monuments before me were all in complete darkness, but the sky hung scorched and ominous with clouds red with rage. The visual before me captured the gloom, anger, despair and fear that held the country in what felt like a physical, mental and spiritual war zone.
I trudged on. In a most miraculous way, as the angry sky settled into darkness and stillness, I found myself standing in the brilliant reflected light of the Washington Monument. Miraculously, my walk ended in a circle of American flags set at half-staff, which seemed to me to be encircling those who were weeping and mourning and suffering. The flags appeared to recognize that pausing for a moment with head bowed in humility and honor would provide needed perspective and inspiration for the nation to rise again.
The flag of the United States of America has always provided such perspective and inspiration as a powerful symbol of freedom. Because of that power, the flag has also been a flashpoint of protest. The very principles of hope and liberty the flag represents allow those who oppose it, or who have grievances against government, to regularly disrespect it. The flag has been burned and stomped on by angry crowds. It has been met with shouts, with silence and with backs turned by protesters. Equally irreverent, the flag has been used by arrogant self-promoters who wrap themselves in it. All are free under this uniquely American banner to do as they wish in respect, or disrespect, for that matter, to the flag. Just because they can doesn't mean they should.
Two recent events provide examples. First, for more than a year, the NFL has been embroiled in a debate among owners, players, fans, sponsors and even President Donald Trump over the proper respect for the flag, the nation and the national anthem. In response, two TV networks have announced that they will no longer televise the presentation of the flag and national anthem before broadcasts of football games. The once pride-producing visual moments of an honor guard bringing in the flag; the outburst of emotion from a player, coach or fan, or the stirring strains of a singer honoring America are being banished because the flag and anthem generate too much controversy for some corporate advertisers.
It should be noted that those who seek to sow the seeds of division and discord in America would like nothing more than to have symbols of freedom like the flag and national anthem exiled from the public square. When the symbols of freedom that unite the people of the nation are transformed into weapons of division, our adversaries are winning.
Second, the death of Sen. John McCain became politicized when the president briefly lowered then raised the flag. After pressure from individuals and groups across the political spectrum, the White House returned the flag to half-staff to mourn McCain's passing. Days of cable news coverage became consumed by the controversy. The focus should not have been on political opponents, verbal jabs or egocentric jousting, but on a life committed to the service of country.
We all can learn critical lessons from the flag — particularly a flag that is bowed at half-staff: humility in recognizing the miracle that is America, flaws and all, and our place in it; awe and wonder in recognizing the power of liberty to unleash human potential; the view of honor rightly given to those who have fallen and those who continue to fight for freedom. The flag beckons our better angels.
The principles of freedom infused into the fiber of the Stars and Stripes and woven into its fabric are the ties that bind us together as a free nation.
The lessons of the flag remind us that while evil will continue to exist in the world, it will not prevail. In the face of difficult and distressing days, individual Americans will always bow their heads then rise as heroic lights to dismiss the darkness. "And the star-spangled Banner in triumph shall wave, O'er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave."