Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Some thoughts on Boston. And flag poles.
Like most of America, I awoke this morning consumed by thoughts of Boston, with both the question and the answer playing over and over in my head: “Did that really happen?” And “Yes, it did.”
Since I live almost four hours away from Boston, I feel, in some sense, like a spectator searching for highlights, updates, whatever soundbites the media will provide. At the same time, I recognize the luxury of being able to decide when “enough is enough,” when the bloody images become too graphic, or the explosion replays too anxiety-provoking, and I am able to indulge in a change of the channel or a head-clearing walk with my dog, or the broken sleep that got me through last night, where I was safe and warm and tucked away in the familiar comfort of my apartment, my bed, my pajamas. While I don’t generally consider myself particularly privileged, and, in fact, occasionally dwell on Woe- is-me Street, I realize – as I’m sure so many others do – that the blessing of an ordinary day is worth acknowledging and appreciating whenever we are fortunate to have one. After all, nothing in life is a guarantee, and the arrival of tomorrow, though a hope, is never a promise.
After yesterday, words like “routine” and “common” and “everyday” suddenly have million-dollar value as I imagine how many marathoners, how many Boston residents, how many first responders and politicians and grieving loved ones must be longing for the predictability of a normal day. If given the chance to glimpse yesterday’s tragedy in advance, I’d like to think that most of us would have noticed the seemingly minute details of our lives – the ticking of clocks, the opening of blossoms, the nods of strangers, the sounds of traffic – all the things that happen so often and so naturally that we passively go along with the noises and the sights like passengers sleeping our way through life, too busy and too tired to bother or be bothered.
At the same time, it says so much about our country that in times of tragedy we come together. Yesterday, countless people reacted without hesitation, from the superhuman strength and bravery of our first responders to the selfless offers of food, shelter, and transportation that have flooded Boston’s helplines since last night. It makes me proud to live in a place and time that may value the individual, but that prioritizes the irreplaceable value of community and of human life.
This morning, when I walked past the New York State Capitol on the way into my office, I actually looked – for the first time ever – at the American flag waving high above me. Since my building is located in a veritable wind tunnel, the flag was whipping and flapping as the wind slapped it back and forth, wrinkling and folding it this way and that. How like a dance, I thought, as flag and wind pushed and pulled, gave and took, opened and closed this symbol of freedom I had never before stopped to notice. While the material itself looked pliable, almost flimsy going up against nature’s blows, it was the flag pole – that nondescript, run-of-the mill piece of metal jutting out of the roof – that held my attention. Despite the weather, the pole remained solid, unmoving, fulfilling its sole purpose: to anchor and support the flag while letting it soar.
I used to think that the flag was the representation of all that America stands for, and I haven’t changed my mind about that. But I have suddenly developed a new appreciation for the pole behind (or beneath) the flag, if you will. A symbol in its own right, it is the unsung hero that stands, silently and dutifully, so that the flag can flutter and fly above us. And more than anything, it is a reminder, to notice the things we often ignore, to appreciate the moments we often take for granted, and to slow down, gaze toward the sky, and see what we often overlook.
Love and healing to all who have been impacted by yesterday’s tragedy. May you know peace and freedom, may you feel loved and supported, may you find strength and courage to survive and to live again in the face of tragedy.