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Post 9-11 Sewing Circle

As a peace activist opposed to war, and later as a bagpiper serving with the Vietnam Vets honor guard in Florida and Texas, I played at many military funerals. None is a happy occasion. The saddest moment, for me, was the flag folding ceremony. This reflection is drawn from those rituals. Sam Gould’s poem, I Don’t Stand to be Recognized, comes to mind.


Your needle pierced layers of fabric, in and back through colorful remnants.
Slowly, rhythmically, you stitched together pieces of a nation.
It would become an ornament of our history, an accoutrement crafted by a patriot seamstress.

Yet so swiftly it fell, those bands of color you had sewn.
Do you remember the flag furling behind the horseman, snapping in the wind before it slipped from his hands into the grime and spit, the blood, the filth of war?

There it would be trampled by hooves, then a thousand marching feet.
Thundering tank treads rolled over it a hundred years later.
And then, with the passing of the century, drones moved overhead in an eerie, disharmonious accompaniment to the symphonies of war.

Through it all, the fervor of young and valorous hearts set our flag ablaze with honor.
It has been seared by artillery, burned by incendiary devices and roadside bombs —
even torched by the occasional rebel’s match.

Yet its fall is inevitable.

At the last, it will be picked up for a cursed purpose, a battlefield shroud,
a cover for the casket carrying the dead from their final sortie.

The magnificent flag is diminished with somber ritual.
Before the gaze of weary eyes wet with shock,
it is folded into a tight triangle by the very company that sent the young to war.

The grieving cradle it in their arms as they once did their baby.

This flag will never rest atop a monument to victory over what we labeled an “enemy.”
Instead, it comes home as a memento of something larger than all the human miseries in the killing fields where our armies fell, the immensity of pain larger than anything our imaginations can conjure.

There is no remediation history or mission or glory can offer.

Peace is to be found in the unlikeliest of places — — the bookshelf shrine.
Like an endless ode to sorrow, the triangle of cloth sits on the shelf amid framed medals and photos.

It is a memorial to the horrific loss of innocence sacrificed for war, misplaced pride, and unforgivable error.

For our folly.

Oh, dear patriot seamstress,
would your hand have wavered had you known how courage and inhumanity would come to forge such an inglorious alliance beneath that banner you stitched for us?

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