One year later…


Gordon Cherr


The old dog stirred from his fitful sleep, casting one sleepy eye at me, and sighing a deep sigh. What was this commotion so early in the morning, he wondered. For me, sleep was anything but fitful; in fact, there had been little sleep last night and none at all this morning. It was time. I had waited for one year, dreading the day.

The old dog knew the now familiar routine. He shook and stretched. He lapped some water. But he was thinking, “this is too early.” It was still dark out. “Never mind”, I said, “We are going to do this right now…”

We jogged out under a dark sky and a few dim street lights. Early streaks of the morning sun barely lit the eastern sky. The flags had sprouted everywhere, overnight. They stood on lawns, they hung from trees and windows, they had found their way into flower beds and onto mail boxes everywhere.

As we ran on, we passed a young woman, still clad in her night clothes, draping a flag over the railing of her bedroom balcony, overlooking the street. She looked down at us as we ran by, waving and shouting “God bless you.” “And you,” I responded. “Thank you.”

The Stars and Stripes I carried high in my right hand flapped in the breeze and we ran on. There is no other sound in the world like a flag snapping proudly in the wind. We started to see people in their cars, pulling out of their driveways and heading for work this day. There was no sound at first but for that of the flag waving proudly, then one person slowed as we ran by and honked his horn, and another leaned out of the passenger window, waved and then saluted. Headlights began to flash, and soon there was a constant procession of drivers slowing and flashing their lights, and a few honked their horns, but most just waved. We ran on.

I do not come by acts of patriotism easily. I was born directly after World War II and cannot remember a time when there has not been armed conflict. Korea, Indochina, then Vietnam, where no one could rationally explain why and where some of my friends fought and died for reasons they could not even fathom. Some even died at Kent State, exercising their rights of free speech, Americans killing Americans in Ohio. Grenada, the Falkland Islands, Somalia, east African genocide, the entire middle east. Why does this never end? I have absolutely no answers. No one does. None that make any sense, anyway.

Yet, here I am in the early morning light of 9/11, running with an American flag in my hand. Thinking of my father, who sneaked into the army in 1939, at the age of 17, to later fight in a war that seemed much clearer cut then…kill or be killed. Thinking of Kid Burr, who I ran so many miles with in high school, whose name you will find on the Memorial Wall in Washington, along with 50,000 others, killed in a nameless place by a faceless enemy, by someone who might say the very same thing about me. Thinking of Craig Hasty in his fatigues and running shoes, “Semper Fi!”. Thinking about how tired I am of the intolerance that may be the end of us all. You see it everyday, even here. Just read the Letters to the Editor in the Democrat. The intolerance that did not allow a woman education or even basic healthcare in Afghanistan or that causes religious fundamentalist fascists to blow up Buddhist statues, previously in existence for a millennium. The Buddha who, above all, preached loving tolerance. Sorry, you may destroy the symbol, but you will never destroy the ideal.

We run on. Past the middle school kids waiting for their bus. The same kids who have made friends with Buster, the little mob of kids who have made it a morning ritual to pet and scratch this panting, drooling dog, his tail wagging madly, his tongue licking their faces as they sit on the curb and greet him so enthusiastically. What kind of world are we going to leave these children? They are quiet, even somber. No wisecracks this morning. One even asks to hold the flag and I hand it over to her. They pass it around and someone hands it back to me. There is a momentary, almost embarrassing strained silence and time seems to stand still until Buster makes a grab for someone’s lunch in a brown paper bag and the kids all laugh and the dog’s tail starts to beat madly again. Buster exudes love and we could all learn something from him.

We run on. I even don’t know what I am running from. But I suddenly know what I am running to. I am not naive, but maybe a better place for everyone. It won’t come easily and it will not come soon. It will take so much work, will we ever get there? It starts with a step in the right direction. Then another and another. Maybe a step back, and one to the side. There are setbacks to overcome, today is the anniversary of a massive setback. Some steps will be big and others will be smaller. Your pace and mine may not coincide.

This bright flag I am still carrying represents universal ideals, sometimes misplaced, and more recently relocated. Maybe for the first time in my life I don’t feel like it is hokey to wave this flag.