I walked into work on Wednesday, 12 September, and saw the storming of the embassy in Libya from my desk. And wondered at the un-originality of the event and the date chosen.
Then the picture switched to Cairo and the embassy there. And I stopped my work and watched, wide-eyed, as protestors there ripped our flag like Cinderella's dress.
I knew it was only a measure of cloth and that the protestors couldn't shred the nation, that the country that flag symbolized was stronger than fabric. But the symbol was still there; in front of my eyes. Rags in vengeful hands. And a fist formed in my stomach at the irreverance.
Several hours later I left the library and started booking it across campus (literally) to where I'd parked my car. I stared at the ground, mindful only of the color of the cement beneath me and the ache in my back muscles where the weight of my backpack told the most.
Somewhere over a PA a brass band began to play. I'd heard it before and didn't think of it, barely registered the song being played.
Then I looked up and around me in the courtyard and noticed something strange. And inconvenient. A couple dozen people, at sundry points within my line of vision, all stopped in stride and facing the same direction with their hands over their hearts.
I looked in the direction they faced and saw. The flag being lowered. To the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner" over the PA. An ROTC member stood nearby, at attention, his arm bent in the military salute.
I stopped in my tracks, embarrassed at being caught moving so fast when all the rest of the world seemed to have stopped. I put my hand over my heart and faced the flag. Out of breath. Pressed for time. With still half a campus to trod.
Then in my mind I saw again the desecration of the flag in Cairo. Remembered the flag at the World Trade Center. Thought of the uniform-clad man standing near me.
And felt softly, where the fist had been, the stirrings of pride for my country and shame for my hurry. Loyalty to the symbol. Gratitude for the care and safety with which this flag was being handled. A feeling of reverence settled over the courtyard then; or maybe I hadn't noticed it until that moment.
I straightened my back underneath the heavy black backpack. Planted my feet more firmly to brace the weight. And faced the flag full on, at attention, eyes unblinking, until it lowered out of sight and the anthem ended.