On the Stars and Stripes

“National Flag Day has been observed for some years by official direction on June 14. It is the anniversary of the adoption by the Congress of the flag of the United States. We do honor to the Stars and Stripes as the emblem of our country and the symbol of all that our patriotism means.

“The stars and the red, white, and blue colors have a significance of their own, but when combined and arranged into the flag of our nation they take on a new significance which no other form or color can convey. We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth. It represents our peace and security, our civil and political liberty, our freedom of religious worship, our family, our friends, our home. We see in it the great multitude of blessings, of rights, and privileges, that make up our country.

“But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done. A yearly contemplation of the meaning of our flag strengthens and purifies the national conscience.” — Calvin Coolidge, June 12, 1931



What do you see when you behold the flag? Do you see unprecedented freedom, remarkable achievements, and lives given to the slow, still unfolding, journey toward ideals? Do you see generations of sacrifice or just lost opportunities? Do you see the flaws and seam lines but miss the beauty of the form, as the fragile fabric combines very different parts into something new altogether? Do you see privilege and rights but miss responsibilities and obligations? To paraphrase Cal, borrowing a little from Abigail Adams’ famous reminder, “Don’t forget the duties” woven as they are into the very materials which comprise the United States themselves. Coolidge saw something more than just a rag on a pole. He saw that what kept the flag aloft each new day was a constant and selfless focus not upon what each of us is owed by someone else but upon what each of us owes others. It is through that emphasis that we continue to carry the the flag’s central meaning and, though of many pieces, join in holding it together.

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