Memorial Day is here and it’s gotten me thinking about patriotism lately.

“We should get an American flag for our house,” I woke up yesterday morning and turned to my husband and said.

“Why? Why now all of a sudden?” he replied.

I had a hard time putting it into words, but I am feeling rather patriotic these days. I’m not feeling proud of our country, or our politics (on either side, really), but I am feeling a sense of overwhelming pride in our communities who are coming together to beat the virus that is threatening all of us.

And I am feeling grateful that I live in a country that has afforded me a way of life where I can be safe at home rather than stuck at home, opportunities where I can professionally reinvent and pivot and expand, the freedom to become anything I want to be.

But Memorial Day has made me think more about freedom isn’t free. It comes through the blood of soldiers who lost their lives to defend it.

Each year, my home state of Massachusetts creates a stunning tribute to our lost veterans, placing 37,000 tiny American flags on the fields of the Public Gardens. Because of COVID-19, they would be doing it this year.

And I am heartbroken about it.

We have never been a military family, aside for Irving, one great uncle who took a bullet on Omaha Beach in WWII. We have never had to stand over the casket of a loved one who died too soon. We have never had to think of these things in any way other than “them.”  Memorial Day was a holiday for “those people.”

But we can no longer afford this thinking. We are in unprecedented times, where I am feeling what unites us far more than what divides us.

And yesterday when I woke up, I felt such gratitude to these men and women who have lived and fought and died for me. And I wanted to put a flag up to honor them.

But flags on houses have gotten weirdly tricky. Somehow they’re not just about Memorial Day but they’ve become a political symbol, a narrative owned by some and not all, a symbol of patriotic ideals that only one party gets to own. And yet, this very conundrum is just as American as the flag itself.

We are all Americans. We are all free. And we all owe a debt of gratitude to those who lost their lives so that we could live ours.

Want more stories like this?