I never imagined this could happen. While on Facebook the other day, I spied a profile picture that featured the stars and stripes of our revered flag and a hard feeling hit me in the gut. "Ugh," I thought, "another person calling President Obama a communist."
It turns out it was a close friend honoring the 9/11 tragedy.
It was startling, this new association evoked from seeing a photo of our nation's flag. It was a terrible, disturbing association.
I then realized why.
In recent months, I've seen many people on Facebook tucking our flag in their profile pictures to denounce our president or his policy by spouting a series of ugly, crude adjectives. No facts. No trusted references. Just adjectives.
For years I've rolled my eyes over the constant rounds of urban legends that remain stuck in a loop on the e-mail circuit. We've all at one point had some myth land on our screen, whether it be about asbestos in tampons or the Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe.
But ever since Mr. Obama took office, such rumors have become increasingly political and increasingly disrespectful and irresponsible.
Social-media sites can compound the errors of urban legends – mass fear spreads easily among "friends." It's one thing to not check facts and think you have the secret recipe for a cookie. It's quite another thing to form opinions about national policy based on an angry statement on Facebook.
The flag is precious to me. The ideals it stands for attracted my ancestors centuries ago, and it has sustained my forebears ever since.
My family is rooted in this country. I have ancestors from Williamsburg, Va., who came over the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky and on to Missouri. My grandfather fought in World War II. My father served two tours in Vietnam. My aunt taught American history to thousands of high school students. Her goal was to make her students patriots. The man I married is the grandson of Slovak immigrants.
I think back to the sacrifices my ancestors made to become citizens of this country. I do not believe they ever looked to our flag as something to hide behind and shout unchecked adjectives or obscenities at fellow citizens or at our president. The flag was something to be literally looked up to. It was taller than a person, not on the level of our daily tasks. It flew over them.
Our flag is not a piece of clip art to distort and derange. It is a profound symbol. Our flag is ceremony. It covers the body of a fallen soldier. It flies at half-mast when our nation loses someone dear.
Given all that has been sacrificed for this symbol, please don't misuse its power. If you plan to use our flag to represent yourself in a political debate, then please speak with an attuned awareness and compassion and speak from a position of strength in truth.
The flag must not be used as a point of argument but as a symbol of the solidarity that binds the diversity of our nation.
I hope that my new association with our flag is short-lived. Our nation is one that tolerates protest, and many times protest has led to needed change.
But, if you protest, you have a responsibility to protest based on fact. This is not a university football game. This is the future of our country.
Amy Hardin Turosak writes as Ms. Shopping Golightly at the Thrifty Chicks blog.