One of my favorite parts of my morning walk is when I pass by our local library just before it opens. If my timing’s right, two staffers come outside just as I pass and I get to watch their reverent ritual of hoisting our flag for another day. It’s cool to watch, and I’m enough of a geek for it to put a little spring in my step.
Last week, I was a little behind schedule, but I rounded the library corner just in time to see one staffer putting his hands on the rope while the other had the flag’s corners in her hands. The first thing I noticed was their quiet. Since the sidewalk runs near the gravel circle around their flagpole, part of my enjoyment is in hearing snippets of their conversations… sometimes about books, sometimes about the weather, sometimes they are laughing about something I wish I knew…
But this day, I could only hear the pulley squeaking and clanging against the metal pole. The man’s large, dark hands pulled three times, the woman’s pale, freckled hands let go, and it was done. Our colors stopped half-way up. Half-Mast.
It’s as far as we can go right now, isn’t it? Barely off the ground and still in the shadows of grief. It was hard to look at her.
So I turned my attention back to the two staffers. They were talking again, quietly and somberly. I couldn’t make out words, but I watched them talk and walk back to the library door. (Too stalker? Maybe a little…)
Those library workers of mine make all the difference on these half-mast days. Because of their faithfulness, and because of the little bit I observe of their working relationship, the half-mast flag isn’t my focus.
And maybe that’s where we all need to be right now.
Because it’s not the red, white, and blue that make us a nation of glory. It’s certainly not the leaders, political parties, or legislation. It’s the people. It’s the faithful, hard-working, relational, normal, and colorful people who show up and lift us every day.
It’s those of us who can celebrate that the mast is half-full because we live in a place where people can talk about whatever they want on the open streets, walk from one township to another without question, and read books for free.
It’s an older, red-haired woman working alongside a young, dark-skinned man long enough to become friends who talk and laugh together.
It’s slightly overweight, middle-aged, part-time worker moms like me, who choose to look to the people here on the ground and see hope.
I talk to people every day, of different races, genders, ages, and backgrounds who are willing to love their neighbor, sacrifice for good, and work hard. People who know God -and some who don’t – who are being used for His glory and redemptive work. People who make mistakes, lose their temper, and hurt loved ones, but recognize grace when they see it and try again.
And when I see my librarians pulling that flag – to as high as it can go – I remember we live under a God who works in nations AND individuals. Our nation was built to uphold a certain ideology and wave its colors before the world.
…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. -The Gettysburg Address
And its people were born to hold that very God in their hearts and glorify Him before their neighbor. It’s the people. And there are enough of us to make a difference.
Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised… -1 Chronicles 16: 23-25
Half-mast flags remind us of what and who we’ve lost. Our nation’s ideologies have faded and fallen. As a group, we’re a sad mess. Maybe because we’ve counted on our government for too long…
But there are people on the ground who wave freedom, democracy, and justice in their homes and neighborhoods daily- even in the face of death and grief. Especially in the face of death and grief. Those people remind us of what we’ve got. Look at them.
It’s time count on each other. To show up every day and take things as far as they can go. It’s time to walk the streets and find a new perspective.
It’s time to stop shaking our heads and our fist at the sight of the half-mast and get to work here … on the ground… in the gravel… for a more perfect union… together.