American Flags on Foxboro Commonby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper, 5/2016

It’s Saturday morning, and like so many others around town I am running errands. Driving on Mechanic Street I spot them – the American flags all along the sidewalk, encircling the common, and also running down parts of Mechanic and Central Street.

The flag’s “magical” appearance several times a year – Memorial Day, founders day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, Labor Day and when needed – don’t happen by magic – the flags are carefully and respectfully placed by a nameless benefactor or benefactors* – one of the many people who do something for this town behind the scenes.

Whomever you are – a group or individual – THANK YOU.

Patriotism and sentimentality can seem insincere, but that is not the case here – I genuinely love the American flag. I think it’s beautiful, iconic, and I love seeing it flying or hanging – it is a constant reminder of WHERE I live, WHERE I was born – and a reminder that this young nation remains a beacon of hope for the world. I am always happy to see that flag.

To see dozens of American flags surrounding the common Saturday made me smile, and once again, proud to be an American.

Then I saw the newest addition to the common – our gleaming, shiny new flagpole that will have been dedicated by the time you read these words. It speaks volumes about our sense of community that rather than have the town simply put up a new flagpole, there was an impressive COMMUNITY endeavor to raise funds – large and small – to contribute and replace the rusty aging flagpole with something much more appropriate for our gorgeous Foxboro common.

I was also touched by the idea to put a time capsule into the base for Foxboro residents of the year 2066.

The American flag represents so much – and in these troubled times, it is sometimes difficult to remember the promise of the American dream.

This has been, in this writer’s opinion, some of the most difficult times in American history. We have been attacked on our own soil – violently, savagely, repeatedly – and we face enemies outside this nation, and within. In addition, we are watching one of the most outrageous presidential campaigns of the last half-century.

It often feels like that this nation’s list of negatives outweighs the positive, doesn’t it?

Decades after civil rights, racism remains, unfortunately, alive and well in our nation – both against the color of skin, or the country of origin. In many cities, it seems civilians and police are at war. People across this land, one of the richest on the planet, go to bed hungry every night, and then they can’t sleep because they don’t know how they can pay the bills. Many of us can barely get along with each other.

No doubt, we could fill this entire newspaper with a long list entitled, “What is wrong with America.”

And our problems seem insurmountable.

But there is something about seeing that American flag today that reminded me that while it flies, we are a nation of democracy, the country created by and continually enriched by immigrants, and populated by a remarkable people who are always endeavoring to make things better. To change the world in small ways and in large.

Because we as a nation are constantly looking at ourselves, shining a spotlight on our flaws and failings, and working to change them.

In a special reading of the Declaration of Independence, actor Morgan Freeman said, “The real glory of the declaration of independence has been our nation’s epic struggle throughout history to close the gap between the ideals of this remarkable document and the sometimes painful realities of American life… it is why this nation is so great and why I am so proud to be an American.”

I like that a lot. Because those words are really America’s story –America is not perfect –but since its founding 240 years ago, despite the wars, the tragedies, the political upheaval, the seemingly unfixable problems…

…there has always been hope and always been a desire to recognize what doesn’t work, and fix it. A need to identify injustices, and right them. There has always been a person – or group of people – who fight to right the wrongs. To force us to take a good look at ourselves as a nation, and do better.

In these difficult times, I would suggest to you that when you see an American flag, take a moment and remember.

First, this Memorial Day, as always, we remember the sacrifice by all those who fought for the nation, the people of this country, and for the Republic itself. We must never forget what they did for us.

Second, when you see an American flag, take a moment – just a moment – and remember the hope, the promise. The reminder that we can always do better, and we MUST do better.

There will always be something to complain about in America – and as with every time since 1776, we can do better and we must do better. There are countless things that MUST change if we are truly to become the land of the free. There always will be. We will never be perfect as a nation – but we can come close.

When you take a look at our gleaming new flagpole and our sacred banner waving at its peak – when you see the red white and blue anywhere, take a moment – really, take just a few moments and focus on something that is GOOD about this country. You’ll find it’s a long list! And you might just find there is something YOU can do to help make it better.

We have a long way to go, but maybe if we focused more on what we can do, and less on how bad things are – things would start to change.

After Memorial Day, those same behind the scenes benefactors will safely fold and store the flags encircling the common until founders day. But at the center of the common, flying proudly in brightest day, and under a bright spotlight in the dark night – on a brand-new flagpole funded by COMMUNITY and PATRIOTISM –a beautiful, poignant symbol of a dream — that sacred banner – that symbol of hope to the world – will continue to fly.

In 2066, when the people of Foxboro open that time capsule under the new flagpole, may they look back at our day and age and see that our generation’s gift to them was a constant effort to give them a better America. And may that flag continue to remind them that there will still be work to be done, but thanks to our efforts here in 2016, the job will be a little easier.

God bless America, and all of you.

* Author’s note: After this was published, I learned that Boy Scout Troop 7 and Troop 32, and Cub Scout Pack 116 are the keepers of the flags and one of their moms oversees them getting the flags put up and taken down.  Thank you all!  It is VERY appreciated!


American Flags on Foxboro Common

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