I am stirred by the thought of chivalry. A devotion to ideals beyond our own self-interest is man's dominant quest. I think of Cervantes' immortal hero Don Quixote and his aria, "One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world was better for this." The fabled knight's passionate outcry defines chivalry as most idyllic.
Don Quixote's battle with windmills throughout the Spanish countryside of Medieval Europe was a simple metaphor in his attempt to right all wrongs. Life is often a series of serendipitous happenstance that unexpectedly provides challenge and a chance to define just who we are. T.E. Lawrence explains this as, "A chance to be great."
Last week a simple and downtrodden homeless man, Gustus Bozarth, had a moment in the sun because of a chivalrous act. Are you familiar with the story?
Recently, a flagpole was blown over during a rainstorm in El Paso, Texas. The next morning the folks at METI Inc. responsible for the pole found the American flag properly folded and securely placed in front of the company's building. The surveillance video showed a man coming to the rescue of the flag in the early hours of the morning. The video shows a man in the driving rain and wind carefully folding the flag military style. He then placed the pole off to the side and quietly returned to a storage unit adjacent to a local warehouse.
"Folding the flag like that is a small act of respect," he said.
I've read about many flag stories and, as a young Marine, was in a few myself. However, I find the story of Gustus Bozarth filled with a sense of irony that raises important issues that we as Americans grapple with.
Patriotism has been an elusive butterfly over these recent years. As a pluralistic culture we see the flag and what it represents through different eyes. Recently, a men's magazine ranked El Paso, Texas, the least patriotic city in America. This irony is compounded by the fact that Gustus, a homeless man who can readily argue that his state in life has absolutely no connection to the American Dream, would be the one to rescue the flag.
The flag is more than a piece of cloth; it is symbolically intertwined with the highest ideas from the loftiest minds. The verse of Thomas Carlyle is understandable "…I have known five hundred soldiers sabered into crows' meat for a piece of glazed cotton, which they call their flag…"
John Greenleaf Whittier's poem Barbara Frietchie depicts the allure of our connection with the flag. When Stonewall Jackson's Confederate Army entered Frederick, Md., he ordered all American flags struck. Barbara Frietchie defied his order and flew the flag outside her window. General Jackson ordered the flag to be shot down. She defiantly appeared at the window. "Shoot if you must this old gray head; but spare your country's flag," she said. The noble nature of Stonewall was stirred. "He who touches a hair of yon gray head, shall die like a dog, march on," he said. The Confederate Army marched that day under the scrutiny of a wavering American flag.
Patriotism is nebulous. However, what is not nebulous is the dilemma of the homeless in American. It's beyond my pay grade to have a solution. However, awareness precedes action, thus Eldridge Cleaver's assumption, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" has to be our Achilles heel.
Gustus Bozarth is a homeless man who has nothing. But he still holds on to his flag and to the hope of our country. Thus, he symbolically refuses to relinquish the American Dream. Patriotism is not always waving the flag; it's doing something for Gustus and the millions he represents.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.