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Archived Weekly Features
This View by Nancy LeMay
Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at

The red, white and blue
December 17th, 2001

When I was in New York during the first week of October, the American flag
was everywhere. Flying from flagpoles on hotel facades, in the windshields of
delivery vans, in the vestibules of stores, standing in the windowsills of
elegant apartments on Central Park West. Street vendors were selling buttons
showing the flag, as well as things like American flag sequined belt buckles
and enameled dog tags.

Of the flag-themed things that I saw around town, what appealed most to me
was a long, flowing, narrow silk scarf with the stars and stripes running
down the length of it in a repeat pattern-about a foot of red and white
stripes and then a rectangular field of blue with white stars. I saw women
wearing it all over Manhattan, and I bought one, not at Bloomingdales or
Bonwit Teller but from a guy in a tiny storefront attached to a hotel off
Sixth Avenue. Five bucks.

Wearing it has been a fascinating experience. I've never owned any sort of
garment that has attracted so much attention. People snap out of their
preoccupied reveries, smile at the scarf, and then at me. Many
people-dozens-have commented on it. "I love your scarf!", or "Where did you
get that?". (I always say "I got it in New York"). And I've walked by
several men who I realized later were probably veterans: what gives them away
are their reactions, which are subtly different from other people's. They
don't always say something, but the expression in their eyes will change, as
if something inside them has shifted into a new place.

This is solidarity, and for those of us who grew up during the Vietnam era
the change in what the flag represents is sudden, dramatic and deep.
The American flag was then a political symbol which had to be interpreted in
context. If it was sewn onto a pair of blue jeans by a college freshman it
meant one thing. If it was flown by the same kid's dad, from the front porch
of his home, it meant something entirely different. Negotiating the political
landscape in the '60s and '70s was an ongoing mental review of what side you
were on: 'for or against the war?', 'protest or support the troops?', and the
flag always stimulated this internal debate. And in the years since, it has
moved somehow off to the side-the focus of attention while we were trying to
decide how we felt about flag burning, and then something that was just
simply 'there.'

No more. Now we are displaying it as a universal symbol of defiance, hope,
respect and remembrance. To wear it is to wrap oneself with those feelings
and to remind others that they are ever-present. When I put on the scarf I
feel the strength that comes from joining with many others in a single-minded
awareness. I get a sense of continuum, of history, at the same time knowing
the uniqueness of this moment. It attaches me more strongly to my home and
family in New York and prompts me to reflect on the importance of reassuring
them whenever I can.

In our time we have focused so intently on the idea of individual expression,
(I've written about it in this space), that each single person has something
to contribute through the individual voice, the individual search for truth.
Then, in an instant, we found all our heads were turned and looking in the
same direction. Collectively, we began the desperate longing for answers and
we responded to the impulse to act. All in concert, with little dissent and
even less hesitation. What lasting mark this will leave on us is something
nobody knows right now. Considering all we have seen, though, it's hard to
imagine we will look at our flag with the same eyes ever again.

Nancy LeMay is a New York native who loves her home town like never before.

About the Author

Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at