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Janis Jaquith
janis@radioessays.com
598 words

STARS AND STRIPES...FOREVER

I was rooting around in my underwear drawer this morning when I came across an American flag. Actually, it's a scarf someone gave me last Fourth of July, but it is an American flag. Stars, stripes, the works.

As it happened, the flag wasn't what I was looking for, so I dumped the drawer out on my bed. Buried among the socks and unmentionables I found a couple of other icons from my past: A broken rosary, and the scapular given to me by Sister Mary Margaret after I made my First Communion.

I found the item I was looking for, and as I was stuffing everything back into the drawer, I vowed to clean it out one of these days. But I know I'll never throw away the rosary or the scapular.

After all, they've been blessed. And besides, as soon as I hung that scapular around my neck, Sister Mary Margaret warned me - warned the whole class - never to take that scapular off. Never. She told us we should keep it on whether we were in the shower, or at the beach.... No matter what.

The worst thing that could happen to us, she said, was if we were to die, and not be wearing that scapular. Then, we would go straight to Hell.

Of course, the Catholic Church has changed a lot in the ensuing forty years. And, if the truth be told, I never did believe Sister Mary Margaret. As soon as I got home that day, I took off the scapular.

But I didn't dare to throw it away.

Same deal with the palm leaves that were handed out at Mass every year on Palm Sunday. The priest blessed them, we took them home, and then what? I think every picture in our house was garnished with a desiccated palm frond stuck between the frame and the wall.

But what about the American-flag scarf? To tell you the truth, it wouldn't bother me to throw that away. I looked pretty silly in it anyway, and it just doesn't have the kind of religious magic that I attribute to my old Catholic artifacts.

I'm a little worried about the flag disposal, though. Some of our elected friends in Washington are trying to amend the Constitution so they can pass laws that would make it a crime to desecrate the American flag.

When I heard this on the news, I looked up "desecrate". Here's what my dictionary says: "to divert from a sacred to a common usage."

Hm. Sacred?

If that amendment passes, and I toss my little flag into the trash, or into an incinerator, I don't suppose anyone would come after me.

Because they wouldn't know.

However, if I handled the flag in a way that called attention to the fact that I was, say, ripping it up or burning it, then I'd be in trouble. That would be a kind of political statement. Political speech, you might say. Then, they could toss me into prison.

This makes Sister Mary Margaret's threat of an eternity in Hell seem tame by comparison. Because, lucky for me, no one gave her the executive power to carry out that particular punishment.


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