Gathered with a group of people of all ages, each recovering from a variety of injuries, the Rio Olympics was the all-around topic of conversation.
Looking at the world through a whole new perspective, nearly all agreed the competition that will be remembered was New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin falling hard on the running track during a qualifying 5,000 meter run. Though she was stunned by the hard hit, she felt a hand on her shoulder and a voice saying, “Get up. We have to finish this.”
American Abbey D’Agostino offered the encouragement, then the help to get up and keep going. Both crossed the finish line. The determined and thoughtful American awaits surgery for injuries she sustained in the hard fall.
This small gathering discussing the Olympics was made up of people from age 22-82, battling hard themselves. Physical therapy can feel like the roughest, toughest, most grueling training ever when a variety of injuries has turned life upside down.
When the leader of this group played our National Anthem, each person in the hall stood, no matter how difficult rising from a chair was, with the exception of the youngest, struggling through a brain injury, shattered ribs, one arm in a cast and sling. A fellow told her, gruffly, to stand up. She looked surprised, unknowing, but stood and faced the flag.
A few days before, my sister and I had talked about the emotional wave of feeling that comes over us when hearing our anthem as an enormous U.S. flag rises high for our winning athletes. “I wish every single one of them would sing because the lyrics tells such an amazing story of those who bravely fought through ‘rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air’ so that we could be here to see that beautiful flag rising all these years later,” she said.
Our American flag
We were raised in a time when respect for our flag and country was universal. We pledged allegiance to the flag each morning at school and quite often at church. There was a U.S. flag on display in every classroom and at the front of the church sanctuary. Saying the pledge, hand over heart, was a daily ritual.
One classmate, a very ornery kid, shocked us one day when he reminded the substitute teacher we had forgotten to stand for the pledge before getting down to business. That boy became a U.S. Marine and a patriotic figure forever in my memory. He was a patriot then — we just didn’t know it yet.
The flag — and all that it signifies — flies over little league fields, national parks, universities, various hospitals and treatment centers, retirement centers and cemeteries. An enduring symbol reminding us of our freedom to make decisions all along life’s way. It should never be taken for granted.
All of this ran through my thoughts on that day as we all sang along — no matter if we sang off-key — proud to stand for our flag and all that it stands for.
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