The . Original title: The original Star Spangled Banner “Museum” (from unverified data provided by the National Photo Company on the negative or negative sleeve.) This glass negative might show streaks and other blemishes resulting from a natural deterioration in the original coatings. cropt from LOC file before upload to Wikimedia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Living in or visiting a foreign country offers the incredible opportunity to see, hear, taste, smell and touch many different people and different ways of life.
In the mid-1990s, I lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because of a building project, the Petronas Twin Towers, once the world’s tallest building(s). This magnificent structure, with the amazing sky-bridge, is featured in the excellent movie “Entrapment” with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
The culture of KL (nearly everybody called it that) included Malay, Chinese and Indian people (from the nation of India) with the major religions being Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu, with other religions, or not, as well. Besides the citizens of Malaysia, there were many expatriates from many nations, including Japan; Korea; Great Britain; France; Australia; New Zealand and many others.
The people of Malaysia were mostly friendly and helpful and nearly all spoke English. Still, it was possible to feel stranded or lonely or just plain bored.
One day I decided to go to the library at the United States Embassy. One embassy, I forget which, had gold paint on black wrought-iron spires surrounding the building. It was a hot (but not miserably hot) day, since Malaysia has year-round tropical temperatures, as well as exotic fruits like nose apples and lychees and the stinky (but reportedly tasty) durian. The flowers of Malaysia are beautiful and abundant. Orchids, regal white and purple orchids, were “everyday” flowers there. I enjoyed buying a dozen coral-colored roses for about 23 ringgit, which was less than $10 American dollars then.
Still, it wasn’t home. When I got to the US Embassy that day, there was a long line, people from many nations, waiting to get inside. I looked around at other places, but the line was longest at the guard house of the American embassy.
Then I looked up, my chest hurts a little now when I think of it. A silent misty longing took my eyes up to that familiar flag—the red, white and blue, with the stars. This is my country, I thought. This is where I belong. This is mine. Of course, the United States of America is not mine. Mostly we belong (or used to belong) to everybody.
Anyway, back in the 90s, which do and don’t seem so long ago, I went inside the US Embassy that day and there was President Bill Clinton‘s portrait and I was too misguided to miss him then, but the President’s familiar face stood guard from the wall.
So, calmly, I looked at the Embassy library books, suddenly feeling that attachment, that sense of belonging to something grander than myself, something that was protective and brave and loving. It was the first time I really paid attention enough to feel love for my country and love for my flag, like millions of people love their own countries and their own flags around the world. Being alone enough, life forcing me to pay attention, made the difference.
It will sound like I’m making this up, but I’m not. While I browsed the books, an announcement came over the embassy intercom system. Everybody already inside the US Embassy was told to stay inside. There was a bomb threat. But, because of that American flag and the honor it stood for, and the people (I was acquainted with two of them) working at that embassy then, and the honor they stood for, I was not afraid.
There’s a reason they call that flag Old Glory. No matter how old that flag gets, it represents the best and the brightest, which can never be a cliche, even when we mess up or act ugly or act out or get hated because, sometimes, we deserve it. With our continuing civil wars, we are still the United States of America (with fear and trembling) although we are worn, torn and tattered.
Nevertheless, when you’re a down and out American, and far from home, you will look for that Star-Spangled Banner. You will look for her. And, if and when she finds her best good self, she will find you. She will reach out and embrace you and take you home and then send you out again for another hard good day.
Even if she dies trying, the better part of the United States of America will have your back. Let’s wish her a happy Fourth. Once upon a time, she deserved it. She may still yet. She’s a mess, but let’s wait and let’s hope and let’s believe. It’s hot, but the sky is blue.