The other day I was taking a walk down the street in my neighborhood when I stopped in my tracks at the sight of an American flag at half mast staring right at me. Instantaneously my mind began to search for the most recent tragedy that might warrant this and when nothing came to mind, I realized that I still felt sad. Even without the knowledge I needed, this symbol hoisted high above the post office made me feel emotional despite being completely out of my control. It was then that I realized why we lower our flags to half mast – to remind us when to be sad.
As someone who is sad all the time for no reason, it’s not like I am seeking out new reasons to feel this complicated emotion. And yet, I still can’t help but feel the corners of my mouth turn downward as I imagine the flag of our country at half its typical height. Are we that brainwashed? Or do we need this reminder to feel something, anything?
With these bizarre thoughts flowing through my head, I decided to post up outside the post office where I had seen this flag and began to ask people why they thought the flag was lowered. The first few people assumed it was for the upcoming holiday, followed by others who thought it had to do with the thousands of coronavirus deaths in recent weeks. One woman even told me she thought it was in honor of George W. Bush until I reminded her he is very much still alive.
It wasn’t until a man wearing a red hat walked up to us and told us his thoughts that I began to understand what was happening. “It doesn’t matter why it’s at half mast,” he told us, bringing his hat to his chest in a sign of respect. “It’s the patriotic thing to respect it, no matter the cause. It could be for Obama or Hillary and I would still show respect to the flag, no questions asked. That’s patriotism.”
I stood there mulling over his response as more people filtered into the post office, including the man in the red hat. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t have time to ask him any follow up questions, such as ‘What brings you to the post office today?’ or ‘What’s that under your arm?’ Instead, I packed up my things and made my way to the car, satisfied with the knowledge I had gleaned from my impromptu interviews.
It was as I got into my car that I heard the gunfire begin.