Eric Black: Life Is Like a Flag at Half-Staff

Life is like a flag at half-staff. Half-staff is a place of mourning, not a place of rest. From half-staff, the flag can go either up or down. Up is triumph. Down is a place of honor after a day well-served. Up is where we all want to be. Down at least means we’re tucked away safely out of the weather. Isn’t life like that?


I remember Ronald Reagan. I remember when he ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980, thinking those two men were running an actual foot race for president. I remember the 1984 election and Reagan’s sound defeat of Walter Mondale. I remember how popular and how visible Reagan was. I remember the sound of his voice on television and his smile.

I don’t remember much about George H.W. Bush during his administration. I was a self-absorbed teenager at the time. I do remember the Dana Carvey parodies on Saturday Night Live, “read my lips” and the first Gulf War. I remember being up all night working on a school project with my friend Gil on election night 1992. We had the TV on so we could keep tabs on the election results. Bill Clinton won.

For George H.W. Bush, the flag flew at full-staff much of the time. He was born into a wealthy family, attended prestigious schools, and enjoyed the first lucrative oil boom in West Texas before relocating to Houston. He then went on to serve throughout our government and garnered much respect. He is best known as the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd president, certainly flag-at-full-staff kinds of things.

As life would have it, though, full-staff is not a place of rest, either. From full-staff, the only place for the flag to go is down, and there were down times in the elder George Bush’s life. He and Barbara lost a young daughter to leukemia. He lost more than one election. He fought vascular Parkinsonism late in life that slowly robbed him of his own body. Most recently, he lost his largely untarnished image when he was accused of sexual harassment by several women. These are definitely not flag-at-full-staff kinds of things. Even half-staff might be too much.

A flag at half-staff is not a flag at rest, at least not in my mind. Every time I see a flag at half-staff, my mind is restless over what it means. This week, my mind is restless over all the ups and downs, the positives and negatives I remember about George H.W. Bush.

How do we make sense of his mixed legacy? The same way we make sense of our own mixed legacy, I suppose.

In the mix, one phrase I’ve heard repeated again and again the last few days is that the elder President Bush put service before self. In other words, it wasn’t about him.

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Source: Baptist Standard