Seeing the U.S. flag draped over a casket is such a powerful image that the Pentagon banned photographing military caskets returning from war since 1991. Experiencing the ceremony when Marines in full dress uniform fold the U.S. flag from over a casket stays in the mind's eye and in the heart. I witnessed this ceremony at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery over a month ago, and I remember it several times a day. That flag is burned on my brain in a way I'm sure The W Team would wish to ban.
I don't know if the experience is so powerful because I have seen the ceremony only a few times. Would it lose its meaning if I saw it everyday? If so, perhaps the Pentagon's ban is actually keeping Americans from losing their outrage over the senseless loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan. I need to believe that U.S. soldiers are the epitome of respect, honor, duty, and sacrifice. I need to see the flag-folding presentation ceremony as a beautiful expression of gratitude by all of us to the widows and families who have experienced the ultimate loss for this country's and the world's good. I want the ceremony to represent the best of our nation, not the throw-away attitude of a greedy oligarchy.
Perhaps I'm still the third-grader watching the Marines in their dress uniforms and gloves folding the flag that covered JFK's casket, then solemnly presenting it to Jackie. I watched the funeral procession on a black and white television. My memory was colorized by LIFE Magazine images in red, white, blue, black and pink. It remembers John-John saluting and the riderless horse. It recalls a nation's hope for a government of ideals and chivalry lost to an assassin's bullets.
As an art teacher, I wonder if my fascination with folding spatial exercises was inspired by a President's funeral. Can the orderly transformation of a rectangle into a triangle reconnect any of us with higher aspirations, peaceful methods, a respect for other peoples and nations, or a resolve to prevent the squandering of a single American soldier's life? If a child's brain can grasp the process of changing a two-dimensional surface through a three-dimensional manipulation, could our elected officials grasp a process for changing the world without destroying it?
Fold carefully. Fold mindfully. Fold with sorrow, grief, respect, honor, courage, hope, gratitude. Match corners to corners. Use one hand to keep the corners together while the other hand creases from the center out to the edges very neatly and precisely. Fold with calm and peace and breathing. Fold each new piece with the same clarity of purpose and respect for the paper as you did the first time. Have patience. Refold the map the way it was before. There is a reason for doing things this way. Find the reason in your heart. Act the reason in your life everyday.