THE PARK'S FLAG WAS AT HALF-MAST. BUT WHY?
I WAS AT FORT ADAMS STATE PARK in Newport, R.I., yesterday in the closing innings of summer – actually it had been fall for a while, but whispers of balmy weather now extend up to November, most likely because of a treacherously warming climate.
In any case, the temperature reached an amazing 75 degrees, and the TV forecasters said that this would truly be the final, final day before winter dug its claws into New England. A goodly number of visitors, dog walkers and parents and grandparents pushing baby carriages heeded the forecast. Two huge cruise ships were anchored in the harbor between the park and the more than two-mile arc of the Newport Bridge; sail boats of all configurations darted up and down Narragansett Bay, on their way to or returning from the Atlantic Ocean.
The world seemed at rest at the giant fortress itself – a massive stone structure whose military claim to fame is that it was never actually engaged in military action since its creation in the 1850s as a guardian of the Bay.
Instead, since its transfer in 1965 to the state, the 105-acre park has served as the very definition of a swords-into-plowshares conversion. It’s now home to the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, sailing clubs, rugby and soccer matches, weddings, dog shelter fundraisers, antique car shows, shore fishing and mainly a magnet for anyone craving a walk in the park.
I glanced up at the fort’s huge American flag against the backdrop of an all blue sky, and noticed that the flag was at half-mast.
A FLAG AT HALF-MAST means something awful has happened. The symbolism is as frightening as it is mysterious. There’s never a message, a sign or loudspeaker to explain why the flag has been dropped to the halfway point.
There could be so many reasons.
Was it the tragedy in Israel and the Gaza Strip? On Oct.7, the terrorist organization, Hamas, had attacked Israel in the most savage ways imaginable, brutally killing mostly civilians, and capturing hundreds as hostages to become cruel bargaining tokens in week and months to come.
Was the flag lowered in sorrow for the thousands of Gazans, mostly civilians, killed and wounded in Israels punishing air strikes and now by a much feared ground attack?
Had Fort Adams’ flag been lowered, not in support or opposition to either side, but in protest of war itself?
Another possibility: maybe the flag was lowered in sorrow and sympathy for what had recently taken place in tiny Rhode Island’s giant northern New England neighbor, where a crazed gunman had slaughtered 18 people in Lewiston, Maine in the latest Big-Number-Murder-by-Gun episode?
Was the flag lowered because, following the shootings, some terrified Maine residents went on a buying spree, rushing to gun stores so that they’d have something to fight back with?
NOW, MY IMAGINATION was wandering. Had deep blue Rhode Island lowered the American flag in protest of the election of Mike Johnson as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives? Johnson, a seemingly pleasant and bookish looking Congressman from Louisiana, had been among Republicans working to overthrow the election of President Joe Biden, allowing Donald Trump to override the Constitution.
Was the flag lowered here in Rhode Island, the birthplace of religious freedom, because Speaker Johnson seemed eager to impose his faith on the rest of the nation. Or because, speaking of the Lewiston massacre with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Johnson had spewed nonsense:
“The end of the day, it’s — the problem is the human heart,” Johnson had said. “It’s not guns, it’s not the weapons. At the end of the day, we have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves and that’s the Second Amendment, and that’s why our party stands so strongly for that.”
Was the flag lowered because Speaker Johnson and his fellow insurrectionists would just as soon turn over Ukraine to the invading Russians?
Was it dropped because of the accelerating pace of man-made global warming that will make the earth uninhabitable?
Had the Fort Adams flag been lowered to acknowledge the relentless peril facing our democracy, because Donald Trump, a would-be dictator, dressed for Halloween as a clown, stands a realistic chance of winning a second term?
FACT IS, that the flag could be lowered for any hundreds of reasons. That is the peril in which we all live every day, but which we mostly ignore, mistakenly thinking that, as a country, we are immune from all of these multiple catastrophes, and that every day is just a walk in the park.
For the record, when I got home, I looked on the state’s website, and found that R.I. Gov. Dan McKee on Oct. 26 had ordered flags lowered at state facilities, and to “remain at half-staff until sunset on October 30, 2023 in memory of the victims of the horrific mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine.”
Made sense, I suppose.
AT A RHODE ISLAND STREET FAIR,
BRIAN C. JONES