Flag Day is June 14. The occasion reminds me of an anecdote that goes back a number of years, but still comes to mind every now and then, touching my heart.
My friend Jason and I were walking along a sidewalk by a marina in the Mission Bay area north of San Diego. We were up from the boats in an area of trees and lawns. We were coming up on a building with a tall flagpole next to it. It was approaching dusk. I noticed a man wearing a work uniform and what appeared to be industrial safety glasses. He had lowered the flag that was flying on the pole, but it was rather large, and with the last few wind gusts of the day still blowing he was having trouble gathering it while keeping it off the ground. I signaled Jason and we ran over to help.
As soon as we arrived, the man explained that it was too much to handle, almost apologetic in his tone. I said, “I know, I know, it’s a two-man job.” Jason asked if we could take over for him and he agreed, seeming relieved.
Jason noticed an accent in the man’s voice and asked him if he spoke Spanish. He said he did, which delighted Jason who had just completed a class in Spanish and saw an opportunity to practice. While we gathered the flag and detached it from its halyard, Jason engaged the man in a casual conversation in Spanish, mostly discussing their jobs. Jason told him of working in San Diego in a high-end bicycle shop. The man asked how much high-end bikes cost. Jason told him he sold one for “ocho mil dolares.”
The man’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped in disbelief. I added, “por uno.”
We all had a laugh.
Jason and I now held the flag by its corners. The atmosphere became solemn. No one spoke. Jason was holding the end with the stars, I was holding the end with the stripes. We both knew the drill. We held it taut and folded it the long way. We folded it the long way again. I then made the first fold that created the triangle. Slowly, with intention, I worked toward Jason until all that was visible were the white stars on the blue background.
Jason turned and presented the flag to the man. He accepted it, held it to his breast with one hand while extending the other to shake ours. Smiling, he thanked us. Smiling back, we thanked him, and we left.
People often say that our diversity makes us strong. It’s not true. Our diversity enriches our cultural experience, but it is our unity, E Pluribus Unum,
that makes us strong.
Three men, three different lives, three different backgrounds, coming together uniting as Americans sharing love of country under the flag.