Aurora, Colorado Does Not Mourn Alone

U.S. flag at half-staff

The unthinkable has happened again.  A deranged shooter in a packed theater auditorium and the nation mourns.  We lowered flags to half-staff.

The people of Aurora, the community of Denver and the citizens of Colorado are bewildered, hurting and grieving in the face of a senseless act.  By lowering our flags half way down the poles, we tell them that they do not mourn alone.

Why do we follow this ritual of mourning?  We know the custom of placing a flag at half-mast began at sea, a practice that goes back at least to the sixteenth century.  Its origin and meaning, however, go back so far that they may be lost in the mists of time.  One nautical source explains that a ship’s “rigging was slacked off as a sign of mourning.”   Yardarms were also placed askew upon masts as if to say, “We mourn a death; we can’t keep things shipshape, because we are grieving.”  A flag flying at full mast on a ship under full sail is a proud and beautiful sight that says all is right with the world.  A flag at half-mast says, “Give me some time; I hurt because of my loss.”

When I looked up at my flag this morning, it hung limply—half way down from the top of the pole where it usually flies proud and strong.    The flag appeared sad, hurting and in grief.  To friends and families in Aurora it says, “You do not mourn alone.”

Symbolic meanings evolve.  Today in America, placing a flag at half-staff or at half-mast is growing to honor and remember those who have died in the past.  For a growing number of holidays, Americans want to place flags at half-staff to mark tragedies of the past.  The U.S. Flag Code originally ordered the display of the U.S. flag at half-staff  on only one holiday, Memorial Day, and then only until noon.  Flying the flag at half-staff was reserved to signal current bereavement.  I like that meaning because it reflects how I feel now when we mourn together as a nation.

When I look up at my flag hanging limply at half-staff, its halyards appear loose like the rigging of ancient ships slaked off in mourning.  My flag is in mourning to tell our neighbors in Colorado, “You are not alone.”

2 Responses to “Aurora, Colorado Does Not Mourn Alone

  • Great article. Thank you for you thoughts and well wishes for those of us here in Aurora that are affected by this tragedy. We have friends and friends of friends who have been affected by this event. My wife teaches middle school and had previously taught one of the victims who still has a bullet / bullet fragment in his skull. We wish for them peace and prayers of recovery.

  • Thank you Jeff. I am glad the posting was of comfort. Seeing my flag at half-staff was of comfort to me.

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