By Daniel D. Maurer
Update: My wonderful publicist promptly informed me that "half mast" is a nautical term, whereas "half-staff" is the correct term. And yes. I will promptly eat my hat over the embarrassment!
I don't know for certain when I noticed the change, but I think it was within this past year. It took me by surprise. I hadn't really noticed it before. And it's not as if I couldn't have easily missed it. After all, I do manage to get out (despite my grueling writing schedule) and they're everywhere.
I'm talking of course about the American flag. What I noticed lately is that they seem to always be at half-staff.
I had no idea that there is actually a website out there to tell you whether or not the flag should be all the way up the pole, or if instead a business owner (or, I suppose, an individual who cares about such things) should only bring Ol' Glory up halfway.
The official regulations about how high to fly a flag are clear enough. "Official" half-staff days are: Peace Officers Memorial Day, Memorial Day (last Monday in May), the Sunday falling in Fire-Prevention Week, National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Patriot Day, and lastly — by Presidential proclamation. The last Presidential proclamation happened most recently with the tragedy that took place in San Bernardino, California with the terrorist attack.
States can also choose specific days each of them select to officially choose to fly either the American flag, that particular State's flag — or both — at half- or full-staff.
Then why is it that it seems like every other time I look out there when I'm driving my kids to school it's only halfway up?
Last time I looked at the count, our President has selected nine times this past year that half-staff status was required. In my home State of Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton has declared it around thirty-four times in 2015, all mostly for deaths of civil servants like police officers and firefighters.
When you think that some businesses might forget to put the flag back up the next day, nearly every week of this past year — at least in Minnesota . . . in your own state your mileage may vary — the flag flew only partially the way up the pole.
"Well . . . who cares?" some of you might say.
I'm certainly no hyper-patriot, but I'm still American and this is my home country, even though I've lived in Germany and travelled extensively around the world.
The reason I'm asking the question at all is that there seems to be a general malaise that has entered our nation's psyche as of late. Don't believe me? Well, just spend five minutes on social media reading the plethora of political posts that go up — from both sides of the spectrum.
Still don't believe me? Then look at Donald Trump's poll numbers. That guy LIVES off of fear and anger.
I'm not about to go into my own politics here. I do care about certain things, especially social justice. But lately, I just feel mad. And I feel scared.
Bells and whistles go off full bore, clanking and screaming louder than a Vegas slot machine when I start to feel this way. You know why?
Because I know that anger and fear are two deeply set emotions that most often get me into trouble.
In my drinking and drugging days, I chased after highs for all sorts of reasons. First, it was just to feel good. Then it was a diversion for when I got bored. Later, it became so I could simply function again!
Always, always, it kicked up the fear of the unknown and the anger that I felt. How this manifest itself wasn't pretty . . .
I'd get into hour-long tirades against my wife. Screaming battles with my older son, who's on the autism spectrum. And I'd yearn for the end of the end, when I'd drink myself to beddy-bye.
"I never want to go back to that place again," I tell myself. "I'm a person in recovery now," I say, over and over, like a mantra.
But the patterns are sticky, like dog shit sticking to the bottom of your shoe after you mow the yard. And like dog shit, the more places I see the shit happening in the world — the more I get caught up into social media drama, or watch the news, or spout off to some phone spammer trying to get me to "fix" my Windows computer, which "certainly has a virus" . . . well, the more I dwell in the place of sickness I said I wanted out of.
And it's dwelling in that same sickness, only without chemicals to "soothe" me. It's a half-staff attitude to life and it sucks, because I get stuck in a constant sinking feeling based in fear and anger.
I'm done with that. I want to change that attitude. How?
I dunno . . .
Maybe there are good enough reasons to lower the flag. I'm very grateful I live in a country where guys like my two cousins put their life on the line to protect and serve my community as police officers.
I can't help but think that maybe we need — collectively — to put enough faith in the IDEA of what our country was founded on (and has come to mean for ALL people): life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a diverse-culture with many, many different beliefs.
Maybe it's time we fly "Our Flag" at the top . . . not because we're the best, or we don't make mistakes, or we don't mourn when we're down — but because we choose to FIND and SEE the goodness despite all the terrible things (the metaphorical "dog shit") that people choose to do to each other.
I'm speaking of course about the American flag itself, but also about the "flag" inside of each of us — the place where we center our identity. I suppose it's our "this-is-who-am-I-ness."
My website is about change. Today, I'm telling you a change I'm going to make: that I'm proud to be an "American" — which to me means a person who lives in this country and chooses to see the goodness that many people have to offer for not just our country . . . but for our world. And I'm saying that I'm not flying my flag in mourning, but I'm flying it out of pride — not because WE or I'M somehow better than everyone else. No way. It's because I know there is a better way to live.
About Daniel D. Maurer
Daniel D. Maurer was an ordained ELCA pastor for eleven years. He lived in western North Dakota and served in several parishes before falling deeply into depression and addiction. After he was arrested for trespassing, he went into treatment at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota. Today, he's a freelance writer living openly in recovery and seeks to share his, and others', stories of change and personal transformation. You can buy his nationally recognized books, here and here. He lives in his family in St. Paul, Minnesota and is the chief word-wrangler at Transformation is Real.