‘Tis of Thee

It hangs from my porch, slack on a breezeless day. It is stunning in the early sunlight. The colors are so vivid you can see them from 76 miles away. Oxide red, ivory, and ultramarine blue.

These three colors are everywhere in my neighborhood. Heck, they’re in every neighborhood in every state. They hang from patios, flagpoles, and vehicle antennas. They are plastered to bumpers, windshields, on hats, bandanas, and coffee mugs.

Sometimes you can see so many flags you forget they’re around. But believe me, they’re out there.

I’ve never done this before, but this morning I counted them. I drove around tallying up how many American flags I saw. I counted 208 within a few-mile radius. Even more if you counted the miniature flags perched in front yards.

I saw them in front windows, on warehouse rooftops, I even saw one painted on a dump truck. They hang from hardware stores, gas stations, barbecue joints, laundromats, Mexican restaurants, barber shops, assisted living facilities, newspaper offices, auto garages, churches, beer joints, synagogues, nightclubs, strip malls, vape superstores, banks, rehabs, jails, and beach condos.

I remember seeing the Stars and Stripes in Mrs. Wilks’s kindergarten classroom. The poor woman tried to teach 18 of us kids with runny noses to recite the Pledge each morning. Her patriotic banner dangled above the chalkboard next to the alphabet posters and a painting of General Washington.

If I close my eyes, I can still see that linoleum and asbestos classroom, and I can still hear Mrs. Wilks playing the upright Mason & Hamlin while we learned the lyrics to the patriotic classics:

“…Stand beside her, and guide her…”

“…From sea to shining sea…”

“…And the rocket’s red glare…”

“…And forever in peace may you wave…”

“…My home sweet home…”

“This land is your land…”

“American woman, mama let me be…”

Well, maybe not the last one.

But you should have heard the kids sing. We sounded like a flock of noisy cats. Squeaky voices. Horrible pitch. The lyrics were completely lost on our young minds. We had no idea what we were singing. And truthfully, at our age we had bigger things to worry about. Like whether we could go an entire classroom period without peeing our pants.

But when I got a little older, I found new appreciation for the banner of our homeland. It happened one autumn day in Tennessee.

I was a kid. My father was an ironworker. He was on the crew that built the General Motors plant in Springhill. He worked late hours and deep overtime. Every evening he came home with mud and soot on his face, wearing the artificial raccoon-eyed tan from welding goggles.

I remember that my father and I arrived at the job site on his off day. The crane operator was about to clock out for the weekend. Which meant they were going to hoist a generator into the air with the crane’s load block to discourage thievery.

Before they hoisted the enormous generator, my father and the operator unfurled a large flag. They attached it to the steel lines. And when the crane’s thunderous winch lifted the flag into the air, the breeze caught the red-white-and-blue and whipped it sideways, tossing acres of fabric above Maury and Williamson counties like a bedsheet.

The men on the jobsite watched it fly, heads cocked, mostly quiet mouths. There were no loud excavators, no backhoes, no bobcats. No arc welding machines, no jackhammers, no rivet guns, no sound. Just a bunch of guys looking at a flag in silence.

And I felt something. It was a feeling that gave me gooseflesh, and still does. It was a feeling of belonging. And solidarity. Of unspoken friendship. I was one of them.

I belonged to these men, and together we all belonged to something that was bigger than the state of Tennessee, bigger than a region, bigger than the designated hitter rule. We belonged to each other. We were countrymen.

I am not the world’s sharpest stick, but I know that this nation is not just 328 million people living on the same patch of continental dirt. We are human beings who, even though we have historically disagreed, believe in the same inalienable things.

We are people who come from the same gritty immigrants, who were once strangers on this gentle land. We are people who get lost sometimes. We are a people whose worst assailants, historically, have not been disease, famine, or acts of God, but each other.

But somehow, even after the hell of finding our own legs, we still love these three colors. We still sing about them at ballgames with full voices. We still drape them over caskets. We still defend them. We still teach our kids about them.

We wear them on our T-shirts. We hang them in our supermarkets. We dangle them from job sites.

A Czech-American truck driver flies one from his eighteen-wheeler. A teenage first-baseman from Detroit tattoos one his forearm. A third-grade teacher in Fort Worth uses them to decorate her classroom.

Because these are not just pigments on fabric. They are a majestic idea. One I believe in. And I know you do too. An idea that gives me the right to love you like a brother. Because you are my brother. And I am yours.

And although the world will little note, nor long remember what I say here, I just wanted you to know why the American flag flies from my porch.

59 comments

  1. Barbara H Ross - November 5, 2020 6:50 am

    Beautiful reminder of how great our country truly is. Badly needed in these stressful times! Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Carolyn from Georgia - November 5, 2020 7:56 am

    You are blessed to live in a great area of this great country if there are 208 flags within a few miles!!! ♡♡♡☆☆☆

    Reply
  3. Te Burt - November 5, 2020 11:10 am

    That was encouraging to read, when it looks like the countrymen we stand next to are going insane.

    Reply
  4. Keith Whitfield - November 5, 2020 11:26 am

    Not a day goes by without an American flag flying from my porch.

    Reply
  5. Kristi Bramblett - November 5, 2020 11:40 am

    You always inspire me to look for the good. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Jean - November 5, 2020 11:46 am

    Long may she wave!! God bless America!

    Reply
  7. Beryl - November 5, 2020 11:55 am

    GOD bless America, our home sweet home. As the pendulum of politics arcs to the right or to the left, may we always remember our humanity is tethered to the middle.

    Reply
  8. Juanita Cordle - November 5, 2020 12:02 pm

    This one. This homily to the American flag is one of your very best. Thank you for being inspired to write these words about what the flag inspires within us. Nita- mom of two active duty Navy sailors, a son and a daughter

    Reply
  9. Saralyn Stafford - November 5, 2020 12:03 pm

    I needed this – for that matter, I need everything you’ve written since I signed up. Thank you for reminding all of us about the best of us.

    Reply
  10. Vicky - November 5, 2020 12:42 pm

    Thank you, Sean-I needed to hear this today. I have been wanting a flag for my house for years-I will be getting one this weekend. And I will think of your words when I look at it!

    Reply
  11. Ginger Cox - November 5, 2020 12:44 pm

    Beautifully stated, Sean. I just said the Pledge with my hand on my heart. Praise be to God that we have the privilege of living in the USA. Thank you, my friend.

    Reply
  12. Rick Putnam - November 5, 2020 12:47 pm

    God bless us, every one

    Reply
  13. Bill in Tennessee - November 5, 2020 1:13 pm

    ^^^THIS^^^ is just exactly the message I needed to hear today. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  14. Bill Malone - November 5, 2020 1:17 pm

    One of your very best. Thanks so much… 🙂

    Reply
  15. Joey - November 5, 2020 1:19 pm

    Perfect. Just perfect.

    Reply
  16. Mary - November 5, 2020 1:28 pm

    God Bless America!

    Reply
  17. Phil (Brown Marlin) - November 5, 2020 1:32 pm

    Double and triple AMENS!

    Reply
  18. Nancy Laird - November 5, 2020 1:33 pm

    It flies from my 30-foot flagpole 24/7/365, together with our state flag. We are, at this writing, the only house in our neighborhood with a flagpole and flag. I haven’t seen any other houses with flags at all. So sad.

    Reply
  19. Katie - November 5, 2020 1:34 pm

    This is truly one of your best! Loved it!

    Reply
  20. nashrrg - November 5, 2020 1:35 pm

    Many a construction site in Middle TN still does this Sean. Thanks for making sure my tear ducts worked this AM.

    Reply
  21. Helen De Prima - November 5, 2020 1:55 pm

    Thank you, Sean! We needed this today more than ever. My flag waves with yours.

    Reply
  22. David - November 5, 2020 2:00 pm

    loved it Sean. A timely reminder we all need right now.

    Reply
  23. Pat - November 5, 2020 2:07 pm

    Love you, Sean! Your writing is brilliant!

    Reply
  24. Gale - November 5, 2020 2:09 pm

    Beautiful words with perfect timing. I also fly the flag from Memorial Day to Veteran’s Day. I would fly it all year round if it wasn’t for the Great Lakes winters & spring (someday we can discuss lake-effect snow). God Bless America.

    Reply
  25. Patricia Gibson - November 5, 2020 2:13 pm

    We are all blessed in this country 🇺🇸

    Reply
  26. Ann - November 5, 2020 2:16 pm

    🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  27. Teresa Tindle - November 5, 2020 2:23 pm

    I wish everyone felt this way about our Flag and our country. Sadly they don’t.

    Reply
  28. Donna J. Masmar - November 5, 2020 2:31 pm

    As I hung my flag out this morning, I questioned why I do this every day when the weather is good. You answered that question for me–it is being thankful for living in the USA, for peaceful elections, and for my late husband who was an Eagle Scout and the flag had great meaning to him also.

    Reply
  29. Daniel Barnes - November 5, 2020 2:36 pm

    Well said brother, at no better time than this…

    Reply
  30. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - November 5, 2020 2:40 pm

    Mine too!

    Reply
  31. Carolyn Waldron - November 5, 2020 2:44 pm

    I do look forward to your postings every…every… day. Your story today brought back fond early memories. Thank you…and may GOD bless America.

    Reply
  32. denise - November 5, 2020 2:54 pm

    Excellent. Thank you.

    Reply
  33. Jan - November 5, 2020 3:17 pm

    Amen. May we always remember what that gorgeous flag stands for and how many have sacrificed to keep it flying high!

    Reply
  34. Farris Jones - November 5, 2020 3:29 pm

    Thank you Sean for this beautiful tribute to our flag ! May God continue to bless our nation and in these troubled times may we remember John 15:12 ” My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. “

    Reply
  35. Linda D - November 5, 2020 3:38 pm

    How do I post this to my Nextdoor site please?

    Reply
  36. P - November 5, 2020 4:18 pm

    Beautiful. Thanks.

    Reply
  37. Richard Young - November 5, 2020 4:36 pm

    God bless
    America and our flag, long may she wave o’re the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    Reply
  38. Teresa - November 5, 2020 5:06 pm

    Amen, brother! May it wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    Reply
  39. Barbara - November 5, 2020 5:29 pm

    We have a flag hanging from the front of our house in suburban Houston 365 days a year. My hope is that my neighbors who may not have liked my campaign signs know that I am an American always.

    Reply
  40. Ken P - November 5, 2020 5:34 pm

    Great one Sean!! Long may our banner wave. For us and our countrymen.

    Reply
  41. Harold Lenz - November 5, 2020 5:53 pm

    As an immigrant from Germany I was naturalized as an American citizen. At that courthouse naturalization ceremony I was provided a small US flag and felt very proud to be an American. I swore an oath to my new country and still, as you, get goosebumps when I see the American flag and hear the national anthem. BTW, I still have that little American flag and proud of it. Stay well.

    Reply
  42. Tracy Ann Nelson - November 5, 2020 5:54 pm

    Great essay Sean. Love it!

    Reply
  43. Marilyn J Barnard - November 5, 2020 5:56 pm

    Long may SHE wave!

    Reply
  44. Pat - November 5, 2020 6:01 pm

    There’s nothing sweeter than small voices saying the pledge.

    Reply
  45. Linda Moon - November 5, 2020 7:05 pm

    I’m looking at a book right now that I’ve read about two American Anthems you mentioned, Sean: “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land”. You told the story of our American land so beautifully. God Bless You. And the USA. You’re welcome to sit on my porch any time, Patriot. The next time I’m in Springhill I’ll think about John Dietrich, the ironworker. And the next time you’re in Talladega you are welcome to think of my father there!

    Reply
  46. MAM - November 5, 2020 7:10 pm

    I can so relate. When we lived overseas whenever we came home, I always got teary-eyed at the first sight of the American flag! Lang may she wave over our land that is free!

    Reply
  47. MAM - November 5, 2020 7:11 pm

    I hate making errors, but it’s easy when the eyes are leaking. LONG may she wave over our land that is free!

    Reply
  48. Bill M. Montgomery, AL - November 5, 2020 9:49 pm

    This was a great one, Sean. And today we really need it!

    Reply
  49. Patricia Schwindt - November 5, 2020 10:04 pm

    It bruises my heart to know that in some schools, they refuse to display the flag.

    Reply
  50. Patricia Schwindt - November 5, 2020 10:07 pm

    I lived and taught English in a former Soviet country from 1992-94, and my lifelong patriotism was fully cemented there. When I came home at last, my mother had everyone iin the family waving American flags to welcome me back! I still believe that those are the most beautiful colors in all the universe!

    Reply
  51. Sue Rhodus - November 5, 2020 10:46 pm

    Can we just clone you ? We need so many more like you in this old world. Our flag was once considered to be a sacred cloth. Lord, help us return to that sentiment. 🇺🇸

    Reply
  52. Stuck in the South - November 6, 2020 12:48 am

    True, very true… but why do so many of you down here associate as strongly with the Confederate Flag… that of rebellion and insurrection which fought against the stars and stripes and against my forbears. It’s 155 years later,,, can’t you just admit that you were wrong, that insurrection against the Stars and Stripes was wrong, and that what you were fighting for was wrong. It’s time to let go… until you can do this, there won’t be any healing.

    Reply
  53. Suzette Bowman - November 6, 2020 1:49 am

    A flag flies from my home! God bless America!

    Reply
  54. Tom Wallin - November 6, 2020 4:56 pm

    Great article. Thanks.
    P.S. It flies from my house every day as well.

    Reply
  55. Linda Broyles - November 6, 2020 7:44 pm

    Thank you❤

    Reply
  56. DiAn - November 6, 2020 8:49 pm

    Again – Thank you, Sean, for reminding that we are all together.
    As we grow through these changes in understanding one another, and the very Real issues that we need to be addressing, as well as nurturing the right leaders to guide us.
    Please keep writing, Sean, and bringing these things onto our “radar”.
    Your perspective is deeply appreciated and needed.

    Reply
  57. Robert M Brenner - November 6, 2020 11:14 pm

    BRAVO Sean! Well said and true 🇺🇸, long may she wave ❤️.

    Reply
  58. johnallenberry - November 12, 2020 12:37 am

    Thank you, brother. Thanks for still believing.

    PhDude

    Reply
  59. Susan - November 25, 2020 11:51 pm

    “I just wanted you to know.” Thank you. I could say this same thing back to you. God bless America. May we stand tall and proud under the sheltering wings of the Almighty.

    Reply

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