Frankly, he didn't look like the kind of man I'd bother to speak to at a gas station just off I-95 in Virginia. Grizzled, rather the worse for wear, probably living a hardscrabble life—at least judging by appearances. But there was a Confederate flag in his truck's front license plate holder, and it made me smile.
I'm a Northerner by birth and upbringing, and even though I've lived almost half my life in Florida—well, from Central Florida you actually have to travel north to get to the South. So I have my full share of prejudices, and there are days when encountering such a man might have scared me. But today, as we passed together through the convenience store doors, I remarked, "I've never been a fan of the Confederate flag, but I've always been a fan of the underdog, and today your truck made me smile. Thank you." The man gave me a gentle smile of his own, and a kindly (maybe even relieved) twinkle touched his eyes as he responded simply, "thank you."
I may not live in the True South, but multicultural Central Florida has helped me lose at least a little bit of my uneducated and frankly self-righteous and snooty attitude towards its people. And to appreciate that neither side in the Civil War had a monopoly on righteousness, self-sacrifice, and courage; that atrocities are carried out under the flags of many nations and many causes; that thinking you have the right to deride someone for his ancestors only means you haven't looked closely enough at your own; and that attempting to erase history is the mark of a totalitarian state.
The brouhaha that has erupted over Confederate flags and monuments to Confederate soldiers made me realize that our country is not as far from the iconoclasm of Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS) as we'd like to think. It makes me grateful for one man and his truck, refusing to bow to the forces that would obliterate his past. One does not learn from history by forgetting it.
And so, bizarre as it might seem, the Confederate flag brought me a little closer to another human being today, one who I would otherwise have treated as beyond the pale. And so I salute that old Virginian, and sing with Robert Burns,
Then let us pray that come it may, As come it will for a' that, That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth Shall bear the gree an' a' that. For a' that, an' a' that, It's comin yet for a' that, That Man to Man the warld o'er Shall brithers be for a' that.
Side note: Immersion in the works of George MacDonald has been of great assistance in understanding and appreciating Burns.
And for your listening and viewing pleasure, the whole song, with pictures of Scotland.