I have found watching the American people come together in the face of tragedy both moving and inspiring.
The people of the city where I currently reside, Ann Arbor Michigan, have always displayed the American flag. The university has a tall flagpole right at the main campus meeting place, where a large flag flies all the time. Since the attacks on New York and Washington, the number of flags on display, on flagpoles and in windows, has more than doubled. Yesterday, a van with a row of American flags reaching from the driver's window to the back door passed me.
I have never felt quite so happy to see the American flag displayed. Before September 11, I saw Stars and Stripes as a political emblem, and I love the United States as nation of people, many of whom I gratefully count as friends. For the first time, I see the familiar emblem not as a political proposition, but as a symbol for a people, and as a symbol for the unity of a whole people.
I expect to leave the United States at the end of this year. My wife will have completed most of her academic program at the University of Michigan, and I hope I will have left a viable branch of the family business. This will mark the end of the second time I have sojourned in the United States. The first time, at the end of the nineteen-sixties, the flag flew over a divided country, and the people on the other side of the divide from most of my American friends had firmly claimed the flag for themselves.
A quarter century later, I returned with my wife when she went to school at the University of Michigan. The wounds of the Vietnam war era had healed. The flag belonged to all Americans, and I respected it for their sake. But I still saw the American flag as a symbol of a political ideal my friends cherished and lived by, rather than of the people themselves.
Today I see the flag differently, as a symbol of the people rather than of the politics. My perceptions have changed, and I see differently, but I believe what I see-- the United States-- has also changed. The deep sense of national solidarity underlying the American experience has come to the surface. I have found that a moving and exciting experience.
We all faced an uncertain future before the events of September 11. That appalling day has not made our future any less certain, although it has made the uncertainty visible. But today, the flags of my friends are flying, and today, I feel privileged and grateful to see it.
John Spragge is president of Dancing Cat Software of Ann Arbor Michigan. His Medicine Line columns appear from time to time in the Ethical Spectacle.