freedom

Long May It Wave

Ever since Betsy Ross stitched the first few threads of Old Glory, our flag has become a symbol of freedom, liberty and fair play throughout the world. 

I’ve always been intrigued by mankind’s use of flags throughout history. They’ve been used to symbolize a variety of things. Governments have used them to evoke pride and patriotism in their peoples. Military leaders have used them on the battlefield to rally their troops. Flags have been used throughout history to instill fear in one’s enemies. Pirates were infamous for this. The mere sight of the Jolly Roger turned many courageous men into quivering jelly.

The U. S. Coast Guard flies a flag at small boat stations to indicate weather conditions. A single triangular red flag indicates a small craft advisory.  Two piggy-backed ones warn boaters of gale conditions. A single, oblong red flag with a black box in its center indicates a storm warning. When these are piggy-backed, boaters better take notice. A hurricane is on its way. Ignore the flags, and sail at your own risk. I just wish the fools who ignore the flags didn’t expect the brave men and women of the Coast Guard to risk their lives to save them.

Signal flags, with each flag representing a letter of the alphabet, are used to indicate a wide variety of events or dangers a ship may be facing. The science of using them requires training and skill. For example, did you know the Juliet flag means “Steer clear. I’m carrying dangerous cargo and am on fire?”  The Whiskey flag means “I have a medical emergency aboard.”  And the Oscar flag means “Man overboard.”

In old times, when a captain died at sea, a blue flag was flown. As the ship arrived in port, anyone watching it dock immediately knew the crew was in mourning. Hence, the expression in our language “feeling blue.”

One of the most famous flags in the world is, of course, the American flag. The United States has set aside June 14 to honor it. It’s simply called Flag Day. A type of Flag Day was first observed one hot summer in Hartford, Connecticut in 1861, but by the late 1800’s Flag Day observances were being held all over the country as a way to incorporate foreign children into our society. If that were to happen today, I don’t think it would go over too well in some communities on the Texas border. There foreign children are more likely to be deported or their parents shot at.

Most folks don’t know that Pennsylvania is the only state where Flag Day is a legal holiday. The forward-thinking citizens there made it so in 1937. Other states across the nation observe it, but only Pennsylvania citizens deemed the flag sacred enough to merit a special holiday.

It’s a shame more people don’t fly the flag regularly. Most folks wouldn’t think of going a day without cable service, but not many seem too concerned about not seeing Old Glory on a regular basis.

Did you know that the American Flag is flown year-round by Presidential decree in five different places? For clarity sake, it wasn’t Donald Trump who first ordered it. You can probably guess a couple of places it’s never taken down. The White House, the Washington Monument, the USS Arizona in Hawaii, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, and the moon. I bet a lot of Raven and Oriole fans didn’t even know that.

It wasn’t until President Harry Truman signed a bill into law in 1949 that Flag Day was nationally observed. I wonder why it took such a long time for so sacred a symbol to achieve such a venerable status. Can’t bombastic, self-serving politicians ever get anything done without dragging it out for decades? I bet if they were told no cocktail hour till some work is done, Flag Day would have been a reality back in 1927 when President Coolidge championed the idea. .

Not everyone in the United States is a big fan of Old Glory. Many protesters believe it’s their God-given right to burn it in protest of their government’s policies. The Supreme Court has ruled they have the right to freedom of expression, but I can’t help but wonder if those brave enough to burn the flag in broad daylight would do so if they had faced down deadly enemy fire in the dead of night in some remote outpost in Afghanistan or a dark jungle teeming with Viet Cong. Those who want to burn the flag should talk to my wife’s cousin, Johnny Gilroy, one of this country’s true heroes. He can tell you about some of  those Vietnam jungles and the men who fought by his side for your freedom.

If you really want to protest our government’s policies, smash your X-Box, burn your paycheck, or lend your debit card to a homeless Vet. A thousand protesters doing that will really get our nation’s attention.

I’m proud to be an American and if you come visit me, you’ll find the American flag flying along with the Jolly Roger and the flag of the Conch Republic. That’s the flag of the Florida Keys, a country unto itself, but that’s a story for another time.

It’s not a perfect country that Old Glory flies over, and like Blackbeard’s crew, we certainly have our blemishes. Bigotry, prejudice, and racial hatred don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

But when just one American stands up for another whom he doesn’t even know or even care for, the invisible threads of our unity are knit tighter than the threads of our flag. Great divisiveness has strangled our nation in recent years, but if we remember that only by working together can we survive, then our future is bright. But if we let anger, fear, hatred, and greed divide us, then we are doomed and no amount of flag-waving is going to save us. The choice is ours. Flag Day is a good day to remember we need to focus on what makes us Americans and not Republicans or Democrats.

                             Bill Hegerich

                              The Uncommon Mariner

 

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A Pirate’s Pirate: Jimmy Buffett Lessons from the Far Side of Paradise

Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. When Helen Keller spoke those words, it’s not likely she was thinking of pirates, but they fit perfectly the happiest pirate this side of Margaritaville and his parrothead followers.

If there are three trademarks of a pirate, it’s these

1. The willingness to take bold chances.

2. The willingness to steal.

3. The thirst for adventure.

If this is true, then Jimmy Buffett is not only a pirate’s pirate, but he’s had school in session for over forty years, teaching parrothead/pirates the intimate details of how to pull this pirate thing off. Let’s get started by putting a few things up front.

Jimmy’s been shot down in Jamaica, crashed his plane in Long Island, been put down by critics, thrown out of sports arenas, and had his share of illicit taxi rides. Yet each time cannon balls fly his way, he’s found a way to “… jump up and smile back at …” us.

This is exactly what makes Jimmy Buffett a pirate’s pirate. Adversity is no stranger to him. It’s just that he’s learned to make friends with it. It’s hard to know whether Jimmy shines because of his resilience, or whether his resilience comes from his ability to shine. I’m convinced if given an electric guitar and Jimmy Buffett‘s example, Blackbeard would have turned out differently.

Let’s face it. No one would ever accuse Jimmy of being a saint, yet there are few people I know closer to God. When you make so many people happy in a world writhing in pain, it’s one of the most godlike things a human can do. More of us should learn to do that.

As for this whole stealing thing, Jimmy is guilty. For over forty years, he’s stolen our hearts while encouraging us to live our dreams. What‘s more, he’s taught us to steal our lives and our dreams back from those who stole them from us a piece at a time.

Though he seems to preach a hedonistic lifestyle, Jimmy is more of a Buddha than a sensualist. It’s all about the present moment. No matter what you were expecting, it is always now. Breathe in, breathe out. Move on. It’s a terrific lesson. Continue reading →

Why We Like Pirates

I think those who object to pirates generally do so for two reasons. First, they point to pirates as nasty, evil men and women who made travel on the sea a precarious and dangerous adventure. Some, indeed, were downright diabolical as can be testified by the ilk of Francis L’Ollonais, Edward Low, and Henry Morgan. Yes, that Henry Morgan who straddled the fence between pirate and privateer quite adeptly. At one point, Henry wasn’t above using nuns and monks as shields when he attacked the fortress at San Geronimo. Clearly these men were sadistic and evil, taking no small pleasure in seeing men and women brutalized for their own personal gain. But not all pirates fit that profile. Many pirates who have been demonized for centuries were not always the vile, murderous figures history has portrayed them to be. One only has to read Colin Woodward’s stellar book The Republic of Pirates to realize many were victims of circumstances. Richard Zacks’ in his revealing book The Pirate Hunter convincingly discounts the myth that Captain Kidd was the world‘s most wicked and notorious pirate. Whatever you can say about pirates and those with a pirate heart, one thing is true. Each is motivated by his own dreams… and whatever they are, a real pirate is willing to lay down his life for them. It’s too bad more people today don’t have that kind of passion.

The second reason pirates make some people feel uncomfortable is that few want to admit we all have the seeds of great good and terrible evil in us. Which ones we water determines what we become. Given the proper circumstances only God knows who among us would have gladly sailed under the jolly roger. Today we tend to romanticize pirates perhaps because we recognize that there is something within them that resonates in our own hearts. The history and literature of the world is filled with stories of men and women both fictional and real who rose from oppression and boldly struck out on their own to follow their dreams- consequences be damned. Their environment may have been landlocked fiefdoms instead of the high seas, but these heroes and heroines had a pirate heart just the same. Joan of Arc, Socrates, Thomas More, The Lone Ranger, Zorro, Davy Crockett, Julius Caesar, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman. It’s why we root for pirates despite David Cordingly’s solid job of debunking a host of pirate myths in his book Under the Black Flag.

To us, Pirates were the good guys who in some way strove to throw off repression and cruelty inflicted by unfair governments and social castes. We see something of ourselves in them. We recognize unfairness and injustice when we see it and stand and cheer when someone bucks the system and fights back. We’re not just cheering for a pirate that knows how to sneer Arrgh. We’re cheering for ourselves because we too have known what it’s like to be oppressed by an insensitive boss or been bullied by an HOA or mistreated by a surly clerk or abused by an unfair insurance adjuster. It’s that part of the pirate we love.

Those with a pirate heart always challenge mainstream thinking and because of it risk becoming outcasts and paying the price. To be sure, we despise men and women who would readily cheat us of our possessions or deprive us of our lives. We spurn and despise the Bernie Madoffs of the world just as quickly as we eschew the pirates that plague the waters off eastern Africa. Yet we admire any soul who courageously breaks from the status quo to pursue his dreams.

The person with a pirate spirit today has a lot in common with the pirates from the Golden Age of Piracy. He stands tall, willing to push back on anyone and any power who would rob him of what is rightfully his. Namely, his life and his dreams. In those quiet moments, you can hear your dreams call your name. What plans are you forming to make them come true? What are you going to do today to reclaim your life out there on the high seas of Life? May God Speed, and may you always have the wind at your back and following seas. See you out there on the high seas of life. Aarrgghh!