Chips from the Old Block

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I’m feeling a little groggy. I ate too much, I think. Maybe I ate too much cause I didn’t really feel like writing today and I made a promise to myself that I’m going to keep going, no matter how I feel.

Maybe I’m hungrier ‘cause it’s Memorial Day weekend and I’m wondering why there are fireworks going off for what’s supposed to be a sacred holiday. I’m wondering why there are no flags flying anywhere and how a sacred day got highjacked into being a retailers’ playground.

Houses back in Buffalo where I grew up were all constructed with an iron flag holder built-in to the front of the house. Everyone knew that the proper protocol was to put the flag up at sunrise and to take it down at sunset. And to never, ever let it make contact with the ground. If the flag did make contact with the ground, you had to dispose of it. There was a metaphor here: you protected and respected your flag because you protected and respected your country.

If, for some inexplicable reason, you forgot to take down your flag at dusk, you might expect a knock on your door from a neighbor concerned about your wellbeing.

Every single homeowner, every single business, everyone, everywhere back then flew a flag on Memorial Day. The practice was so ubiquitous that, had you encountered an empty space where a flag was not, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

No one would dare hang up a dirty flag, a torn, tattered, shredded, faded flag. Doing so would have been unheard of, judged disrespectful, or even sacrilegious.

Nowadays, as a matter of common practice, Americans routinely fly dirty, torn, tattered, shredded, faded flags and leave them hanging outside to weather the elements, round the clock, round the year. This is a whole other metaphor being expressed.

I always wonder how many Americans pause on Memorial Day to take note of why they’re enjoying a day off from work, their cookouts, their fireworks, their outrageous retail deals – on a Monday, which, in any other given week, would be business as usual.

I oftentimes contemplate the collective soul of this nation…where its allegiance lies; what it stands for; what, if anything drives or unites it anymore.

Back when I taught the English language to international students, after they had been in the country for several months, I always asked this question of each class: “What do you think is most important to Americans?”

They had no problem coming up with the same two things, consistently – every and every class: money and freedom. Sometimes they’d say freedom and money.

“Okay. What else?” I’d gently probe, expecting them to come up with a list requiring a scroll.

That’s when they started struggling to find answers.  They’d start looking around at each other for help. Then they’d try to placate me.

“Family??”

“Education??”

“Work??”

And that would be the end of the discussion.

Buffalo, New York is a city with distinct ethnic populations: German, Polish, Italian, Irish, predominantly. It’s a place where people still look out for each other and take care of each other the best they can. The binding element generated in a place like this is the cohesion created from generations of a shared experience.

I have never, ever felt at home in Atlanta, Georgia – a place where I first lived for 14 years before going to California for 10 years before returning here 12 years ago. There has never been any shared experience here ethnically or culturally for me. I have never felt rooted here. I have met countless southerners over the years – “natives” who had no idea of the origin of their last names – nor did they care. In fact, they had never even considered it until I asked.

Now, I seem to be meandering, as I sometimes do. But one person’s meandering is another person’s process. Meandering is my process and all roads eventually lead to Rome.

I told you at the beginning of this piece that I didn’t feel like writing and why

I told you about some things leaning on my mind.

About some things that I wish weren’t gone but they are

And about some other things that are here to stay that I wish were gone

Tomorrow, I want every American, at some point in the day, to lay down their forks, their drinks, their fireworks, to stop chattering, to stop moving, and to interrupt their regularly-scheduled programming to say,

“Let’s remember what this day is all about. Let’s hold a moment of silence and gratitude for all those men and women who lost their lives in war throughout American history.  Let’s speak out loud the names of those we have known and lost throughout the generations.  And let’s allow ourselves to really feel their loss, if only for the duration of a single heartbeat.

“Cause we’re Americans.

And this is what our Memorial Day is all about.

Penultimate

Earlier today, after sharing a lengthy conversation with a man and his wife at Alon’s,  swapping stories of caregiving, death,

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