My youngest sister is the first one who taught me there was such a thing as flag etiquette. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I had no reason to know there were flag rules. My sister, the ROTC cadet, “USA” painted with glow in the dark paint on her lamp shade, knows she is going to the Army sister, taught me there was flag etiquette when she was in high school. I never forgot that conversation standing in her room.

Fast forward many years, I become responsible for raising the flag at work. I remembered the etiquette she taught me. Don’t let the flag touch the ground. Don’t set it out when it is raining. Always have a light on it if it stays outside at night. From her, I learned how to respect the flag. From there, I found respect for the flag.

Days the flag is flown half staff can be overwhelming while pulling at heart strings. I honestly don’t know if I would have the same reaction if I didn’t physically place the flag on the pole. Even with that found respect for the flag. Usually there is cool, crisp air. Silence. Sun is just peaking over the hills. You can feel the honor among the silence. Lifting the flag, slowly. Time for reflection. Say a prayer.

And while in my moment of honoring I was schooled once again. One morning while raising the flag to half-staff, a friend showed up to work. He is a veteran. I feel that is worth mentioning because a veteran has a different bond with the flag than a non-veteran. I didn’t realize he was observing me do a task I am honored to do. When I was done, he approached me and politely schooled me. And from that moment my perception was changed. Isn’t it crazy something can happen in less than 10 mins can change your life?

Real quick, I am not an emotional person. Of course, I can get emotional. I cry over silly things. I allow myself to get worked up for no reason. My inner child comes out and makes me look a fool. However, I have conditioned myself to have a pretty thick skin. I learned how to process real emotions. This has served me well in a painful and cruel world. The key is I allow myself to process the emotions not ignore them. I share this because when I say what my friend taught me changed me it’s no joke. What my friend did was explain how to properly set the flag to half-staff.

My friend said to me, kindly, “You know, the flag is supposed to go to the top, and then slowly come down to half staff.”

I had no idea.

You are probably wondering why this would change my life. It changed my life because every time I set the flag to half-staff I paid my tribute to the person(s) the flag was lowered for. I secured the flag to the line, and slowly raised it. Say a prayer if warranted. I stepped back and made sure it settled at or near half-staff. There is an emotional feeling to the process.

And I was doing it wrong.

Raise the flag. When she gets to the top, pause. Today, she is not flying proudly on the pinnacle. No. On this day she is being lowered. The clasps sliding down the pole slowly. The sound of her bowing her head with respect. Today, she is resting at half-mast. Our community is mourning and so is she.

It doesn’t sound life changing when you read it. Perhaps part of the somberness is the reason for the order. Working at a school where your kids also attend and setting the flag to an ordered half-staff because of a school shooting emphasizes the emotions and reminds you it is more than a flag on a pole. It’s more than etiquette. It’s a ceremony.

Today my sister who taught me about flag etiquette is attending the funeral of her stepson. The Governor did not call for flags to be half-staff, but my flag will be flying half-staff today. This is for you, Teri. I hope you know you make me a proud big sister. I’m sorry for your loss. Memory eternal #N273SM.