This I Believe

Paula - Los Angeles, California
Entered on October 8, 2007

If you were to ask me where I’m “from,” I would tell you quickly, that I am “from” Hawaii. But that’s not really a complete answer. Hawaii is the source of my physical and cultural DNA; my family’s roots are in Hawaii, and I was born in Hawaii. But I was a toddler in Colorado, went to preschool in Germany, elementary school in Georgia, then Nebraska, and attended high school in Virginia. My youth in these scattered places was punctuated by long days in transoceanic boats or transcontinental Chryslers.

There is a slow rhythm to the unfolding of this country, from its shrugging Appalachians to the lap of the Pacific. I have seen it, mile by mile, from a car window: rows of peach trees, miles of cornfields, waves of wheat, fields of sugarcane. All the dust and snow and heat and ocean that this great land provides, I’ve kicked around in it. My father was a career officer in the United States Army.

On an Army base, you didn’t need to wear a watch to know what time it was, because the bugle calls which blasted from the very thorough sound system would most clearly provide that advice. From Reveille at 0600 hours to Taps at 2300 hours, every significant event of the day would be heralded by a particular call which dictated the activity: rise, work, eat, work, eat, sleep. And so we did.

As school children, we were exempt from most of the bugle calls, save one. Toward sunset, the day cooling, we would be outdoors after school, playing in some riotous way; but when we heard those first baleful notes of the bugle playing Retreat, we knew that the American flag was being lowered, and that we were to pay our respect. We would immediately stop whatever we were doing – – throw down our bikes, hop out of tree swings, drop our marbles or jump ropes.

Every activity on base would come to a halt; traffic would stop, people would get out of their cars, everyone everywhere stood at attention. As quick as a hush, a reverent quiet would fall, and we would all turn to where we knew the American flag had been flying all day. It was a place we knew as well as we knew where home was. We placed our hands on our hearts. As the last note of the bugle trailed away with the light of the sun, a perfect stillness would rise, like the moment before a heart beats, again.

Then, a single round of canon fire, and we would know the ceremony was complete. We would resume, bustle about, and return to play.

What grows from a pledged silence? Faith from prayer; opportunity from effort; freedom, from vigilance. I pledged allegiance to our flag because we put men on the moon and Patsy Mink in Congress.

I pledge allegiance to the flag because a hamburger stand in Santa Monica serves Teriyaki Tacos.

I pledge allegiance to the flag because I am allowed to burn it and therefore, I never would.