When it came time to pray, the Stars and Stripes stood limp in the back, left-hand corner of the room, out of sight.
Up front was the processional cross, the center of our attention and standard of the hour. I had to crane my neck nearly one hundred and eighty degrees to spy Old Glory. I didn’t feel sorry for her, though. I knew that before the day was over, she would receive her due–and then some. But at that moment, she was merely an invited guest, one among many.
That was the scene as we prepared for common prayer yesterday at Nativity Episcopal Church in Huntsville. In many ways, I had been dreading the weekend. I had sensed early on in the week that people were squaring off over ownership of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, like two grieving relatives fighting over a loved one’s remains.
Some liberals in my circle seemed to want to go to great lengths to purge from the occasion any respect for country and flag and to focus only on remorse over the mistakes that we have made over the last decade (and there have been many) in our responses to that horrific attack.
Some conservatives seemed to long for a fresh surge of raw, patriotic fervor, as if it would be somehow dishonorable and treasonous for the intense grief and rush of fight-or-flight adrenaline of those early days to finally give away to more rational, clear-headed thinking and analysis.
It seemed to me that neither group had it quite right. It’s hard to strike a pitch perfect note and chart a middle way in this world, but I knew that if such a road existed, it would lead through this place.
The priest, rather than peppering the congregants with a hodgepodge of points, focused on one word: Mercy. And then, together, we prayed–for everyone: the church, other faith communities, our nation, those who serve her, for all nations and peoples, for all who suffer (especially on this day), for those who acted selflessly that day, for those struggling to heal from the terror they witnessed, for the perpetrators of violence, for those struggling for peace and justice.
For those who died. And for those who grieve.
“God of love and mercy, Hear our prayer.”
We communed and dismissed, receiving the charge, once again, to “go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”
But first, brunch: an Italian fruttata with roasted red peppers, sausage, ricotta, herb cream and parmesan cheeses, topped off with coffee cake.
And then a book signing and short visit with a local African American doctor who, at great personal cost, led the effort to integrate Huntsville public schools in 1963.
We stopped by a local nursing home to visit our next door neighbor. She suffers from dementia and can no longer live alone. She enjoyed our visit, but she always asks us if we will “take her for a little drive.” She wants to see her house again, but probably never will.
The rest of the day consisted of reading, writing, watching TV, petting the dog and calling to check in on family and friends. We watched this. And then we called or texted each one of our sons and made sure that we told them that we loved them before the day was done.
I spied my father’s funeral flag sitting atop a bookshelf in its triangular wooden box. I took it down and knocked off a little bit of the dust so that the blue field and white stars showed through more clearly.
We tried our best to do right by the day. It may have amounted to nothing more than a few seeds tossed into a strong wind.
But who knows, maybe something will take root.