Flags all over the country are at half-mast today, in honor of and in mourning for 31 lives lost senselessly over the weekend, and many more wounded. Why should flags be flown at half-mast? A powerful article by George Yancy, professor of philosophy at Emory University, and published by the NY Times expresses our public angst at this moment.1 He yearns for a direct experience with a divinity he cannot prove is there. He doesn’t write as a philosopher; he writes passionately as a human being. Collectively we yearn for meaning in the midst of senseless pain, meaning that must come from elsewhere we certainly can’t seem to conjure it up ourselves. We feel tragic on a national scale.
It’s not a new tragedy. The Klan openly controlled the city of Bellingham, Washington in the 1920’s. The US government deported masses of U.S. citizens of Mexican descent in the 1930’s. Jim Crow laws were not finally dismantled until the 1950’s. Japanese Americans were forced into concentration camps during WWII…there are a thousand more stories. Current white supremacists waging their own crazy war is but the current outbreak of our great national tragedy. Flags have been flown at half-mast far too infrequently. Maybe this time it is as it should be. Or it shouldn’t be—because it shouldn’t
be! We are mourning because once again we have allowed ourselves to nurture such a thing unawares.
Yancy rushes to no quick solutions. There are no quick solutions. We are caught between great pain and great love, where the only way out is up, because down doesn’t work. The wisdom that points upward only speaks when the clamor of quick solutions implodes, leaving a silence capable of compassion. I would like to think that this time, flags at half-mast are an attempt at that wisdom.