Saturday, May 6, 2017


Quinn (and consequently I) have been taking Latin lessons once a week at the local university for a couple of years now.  I love having an activity that I get to do with just him where we can chat in the car and walk together to the library and maybe share a snack if there's time.  Plus the Latin is fun, too.  All of that I sort of pictured ahead of time when we signed up.

What I hadn't pictured was our regular inspection of the flags.

We fly an inordinate number of flags in our country.  Quinn loves flags (or, at least, he loves anything related to geography that can be put into an orderly list) and can currently identify all 197 country flags we found on an online quiz.  He pays attention to them in a way I normally don't.  On our short commute to the university we pass many flags flying outside of schools and government buildings and people's homes.

It seems more often than not anymore, those flags are at half-staff.

There are three very tall flagpoles right outside the library building we visit every week, and they fly an American flag, a state flag, and a city flag.  (Many here are unhappy with the cluttered design of the city flag, and when Milwaukee ran a contest to design a new one not long ago a simpler flag emerged of the sun rising over the lake that has become popular in our neighborhood, so where we are it feels like there are two city flags.)  We have time to discuss the flags as we approach them on our walk, and frequently we wind up trying to figure out who died.

Most of the time I have no idea.  I remember about a week after justice Scalia passed away that the flags on our commute were all still at half-staff and I couldn't figure out if it was still in his honor, or if someone else had died.  A few weeks ago I'm pretty sure it was for a city worker who was murdered.  Have any of them been for any of the black citizens unjustly killed that we see on the news too often?  Or is that honor only bestowed on people who worked in the government?  I'm not sure what the rules are for adjusting flags.  When we took our trip to The Dells recently all the flags on the way there were at half-staff and we didn't know what for.

I listen to the news.  (I probably shouldn't because I'm having blood pressure issues and I find the news alarming and disheartening all the time now, but those details are a different post.)  I think of myself as fairly well informed.  Or at least as well informed as a busy mom trying to run her own business can be, but I generally pay attention to the world at large.

However, I really can't keep track of whatever tragedies the height of our flags are trying to acknowledge.  Sometimes Quinn and I speculate which government entity is more upset based on the relative heights of the flags.  Once the city flag was much lower than the other two of our library flags, and we wondered if that meant anything, even if just to the person in charge of adjusting them on the poles.

To me, at least, the flags at half-staff seemingly all the time feel reflective of a general state of despair I feel around me lately.  There is a pervasive sense of loss among many, even if we can't give it a name.  But we go on because there are things to do and we don't know how to fix the undercurrent of distress anyway.  It's as if we have mourning fatigue.  So my son and I see the flags at half-staff, wonder who died, and then move on before we even know.  Because that's what life is like now.  And at this moment I'm too tired to imagine something better.


  1. Kory, I've been noticing and wondering the same things lately. It seems like 1/2 staff has become the norm rather than the exception.

  2. I know, it used to seem rare, and now it's all the time. I was looking at some trivia thing online about how Kennedy was shot right before Gilligan's Island filmed their pilot and the clue is you can see flags in the marina in the credits at half-staff, and I thought, "Sheesh, now that wouldn't be a clue to anything!"