Whenever I get the chance, I take full advantage of the opportunity to lie in my hammock on the front porch of our house. The porch is covered and it’s on the east side of the house, protected from the sometimes gusty winds that come off Lake Erie not far from us.
The hammock is made out of soft woven strings stretched to a metal ring on each end. The rings have heavy chains connected to them that are attached to hooks that secure the entire hammock to its metal pedestal. The rope strings are covered by a comfortable bedding pad that even has a built-in pillow tied to it.
I don’t know about where you live, but here in Western New York, this was a great summer to own a hammock. On more occasions than in any other summer I can remember, I took time out of our busy lives just to enjoy my hammock. As our house sits perpendicular to our quiet village street, my front porch hammock gives me a good vantage point from which to observe neighborhood activities, read a book, or just to focus on the inside of my eyelids, whichever I’m in the mood for. I bet you that I’ve slept outside in the hammock no less than 15 nights this summer. It’s a great spot.
Not long after we moved into our house almost 15 years ago I made one of the most important purchases a first-time homeowner can make. I bought and mounted an American flag to the front post of our porch. Although the installation is not a difficult one, I remember it being a proud and rewarding moment to drill the holes for the mount, push the flag pole into the base and tighten the set screw to keep the flag in place. The flag is installed at about an 80 degree angle so it doesn’t stick straight out which could cause injury to anyone who might walk into it as they approached our house from the sidewalk.
Many times I just lie in my hammock and stare at that flag. It helps me think. It helps me relax.
Sometimes the flag hangs straight down, motionless. Other times, the wind blows across the roof and flips the flag from side to side and even upside down. I climbed in my hammock the other day and looked up to see that my flag was wrapped around itself so tightly that only a small triangular section was hanging down. It looked like an umbrella that had been closed but not yet buttoned up.
I watch as the wind blows my flag, slowly tearing its bottom edges as it twists and turns itself up onto the roof, above the gutter, and then flops itself back down again, waving back and forth. The gold eagle at the top of the flag pole glistens in the morning sun.
The next time I look at that flag, it could be a tangled mess – or it could be flowing freely in the breeze. It’s different every time I look at it. That’s the beauty of my flag.
As I lay here in my hammock on Saturday-September 11, 2010 — I think about that flag and what it means to me. More than just dyed cotton and a metal pole, that flag represents America. Not just because it’s our stars and stripes, but even in the way it acts and responds.
Sometimes these United States, like my flag, just rest at ease: quiet, still, but ever ready. And for sure, neither our nation or my flag are without imperfections. It’s tattered and worn but beautiful and inspiring nonetheless. The most amazing part about my flag is that no matter how tangled and torn it gets, its resilience to right itself always prevails. My flag is dependable. Even in the worst weather, it flows freely and beautifully. My country is just like that too.
I just returned from our community’s September 11th Remembrance Ceremony at the gazebo located in the center of our village. Complete with personal reflections from civic leaders, prayers and the playing of our National Anthem and “America the Beautiful;” the only thing missing from the service was an appropriate attendance from our citizens. Unfortunately, there were more firefighters, veterans, law enforcement and politicians – than there were members of the general public.
How easily we forget. How easy it is to go about our daily lives without even pausing for an hour to be a part of a community remembrance. It’s been nine years. How sad. How shameful.
However disappointing and disturbing, I don’t regret attending.
Despite all that, it made me feel good that we were surrounded by American Flags of all sizes: on poles, on uniforms, in hand, and even a huge flag that flew over the gazebo from a fully extended ladder truck. As we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow first responders, it reminded me of my definition of brotherhood that I penned five years ago:
“It doesn’t matter that we wear different patches on our left sleeve. What’s important is that we wear the same patch on our right sleeve – the red, white and blue one – the one with the stars and stripes on it. That’s what brings us together and keeps us together. No one can ever take that away from us. The fire service is what’s right about America.”
— Tiger Schmittendorf – February 25, 2005
I stood there listening and looking at the people around me when it dawned on me that, while I originally wrote this definition in relation to the fire service – it’s much larger than that.
Our brotherhood, our connections, extend well beyond the fire service. Those police officers, councilmen, supervisors, veterans, mayors, legislators and civic-minded civlians are more like us than we sometimes realize or care to admit.
They care about our community. They care about our values and they care about people.
Anyone who volunteers to lead a community group, who looks out for others, anyone who takes on a project to make our community a better place – they’re part of that brotherhood. They’re part of that bond that makes a group of people a community – and a country.
Some 3,000 Americans were killed on September 11, 2001 and many more since, for trying to do just that.
When you wear that flag, wear it in their honor — for it’s that flag that connects us all. Maybe I shouldn’t even call it my flag. It’s our flag.
I love my family, my friends, my fire service; I love my community and my country.
I love my hammock.
I love my freedom.
I love my flag.
Editor’s Note: I am infatuated with the American Flag and photograph them every chance I get. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…
- Download my definition of Brotherhood
- View my collection of flag photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tigerschmittendorf/sets/72157623885213092/.
- View photos of our September 11th Memorial Service