I have fond memories of my father putting out the flag on Flag Day as I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a 48-star flag, a bit worn, and for a time I was embarrassed by its out-of-datedness; but later I came to appreciate just a bit of the sentimental value my father placed on this flag that he had proudly possessed for so many years.
I’ve thought about the American flag a lot lately, and, since today is Flag Day, I decided to put some thoughts down in writing. It pisses me off that the flag, and the pride in this country that it symbolizes, has been yielded to the political right. When I see a flag on a car bumper or window, for instance, I immediately pigeon-hole the driver as right-wing, and feel a sense of alienation. I’m sure it’s not always true, but I think it’s mostly true.
There’s plenty that I’m not proud about the U.S. The hubris and imperialistic attitude toward the rest of the world, and the so often misplaced priorities at home. But there are reasons to be proud as well.
Earlier today I went to pick up some knives I had dropped off at A&A Tool Sharpening in Upper Darby. I’ve used this place before, and enjoyed dealing with the elderly proprietor with the thick Italian accent. His name is Tony Borrelli. This time, I asked him about his background. He told me he learned his craft growing up in Italy, and then lived in Argentina for some years before emigrating to the U.S., which he called “the best country on the planet”. I asked him why, and he lit up. He looked me in the eye to make sure we were connected, and he told me several things. I can’t remember them all, and they weren’t all about America per se, but a couple things I recall…
- In this country, if you want to work you can live. He felt he had a chance to live here in a way that was, among other qualities, more respectful than he felt in other countries. You have to live with people and eat with people and work with people from other countries, he said, to appreciate America, implying that I, native-born, take it for granted (and he’s probably right).
- The most important thing is “knowledge of other people”, he told me. “More important than money; more important than gold.” If you meet someone who knows more than you, show them respect, he advised. Then you can learn from them. He probably wouldn’t know the term “social capital”, but that’s what he meant.
I don’t know Mr. Borrelli’s politics. I suspect that they are not congruent with my own. But for a few moments, he and I connected on a special level — this man whose long and challenging life had taught him to love this country, and myself, who wants to be openly proud of my country.
I believe that America CAN do great things – things that I and others on the left would agree were great. But this means reinforcing (or creating) themes of what America is about that are not dominant today. And the signal that this has occurred will be when people see flags on bumper stickers, and cannot guess the politics of the drivers.
As he handed me my knives, Mr. Borrelli held my gaze and said, “I tell you this. You tell someone else.”
And so I am.