I was walking through Central Park in New York City on Monday, and, alongside the rest of the flags in the city, I noticed one at half-mast (the one pictured above) — lowered after the recent shooting in Florida.
It struck me that many have recently decided that symbols of solidarity have been declining in popularity. The phrase “thoughts and prayers” will no doubt be berated by thousands of people online (who probably aren’t doing much themselves) as a lame excuse for inaction. While I can get on board with the sentiment that says that actions speak louder than words, I would not choose to devalue someone’s intentions if they legitimately pray and keep others in their minds, rather than shying away as if none of it ever happened. There are a million grandmothers out there who do this in earnest, and I would not dismiss that.
But again, I can agree with the sentiment that basically says “talk is cheap.”
Why then is lowering the flag not generally considered just “talk?”
I know why it’s not for me. While phrases like “thoughts and prayers” can be debated by those interested in semantics, the lowering of the flag has personal memories associated with it that I will not forget until my brain stops functioning entirely. To see a flag at half-mast reminds me of when I saw a flag at half mast for my fallen friends who gave their lives in combat. It reminds me that solidarity is not for nothing, and that this recent tragedy for those in Florida is very real, personal and heartbreaking for many, as it was for me when I lost those that I loved.
However, I can’t speak for anyone else. Maybe those who live off of criticizing from their keyboards just haven’t realized that flags at half-mast are a potential target (if that’s the case, I already regret writing this article).
This has also been known as half-staff (half-mast is technically for aboard ships with masts), and it is not exclusive to the United States. The government can order all government flagpoles to go at half-mast, as President Trump ordered after the recent shooting in Florida. There are reasons the government will always lower their flags, like every September 11th or after the death of a president. Civilian flagpoles are not subject to these orders and can do as they please, as they are protected by the First Amendment.
The origins of the flag are unclear — some have said it is the respectful lowering to leave room for an invisible flag of death above. Being a military man myself, I often think of a soldier who has been shot several times, hoisting the flag upward despite his wounds, and he only makes it halfway before leaving this world for the next. I’m not sure when that image entered my head, but it has stuck with me.
Featured image taken by the author.