The home-to-work morning commute is thirty five and a half miles. I-55 from Route Six in Channahon up to 355 in Bolingbrook to either Ogden or Butterfield in Downers Grove/Lombard (the Ogden exit saves one toll but takes a little longer). Normally it takes close to an hour with traffic; on bad weather days or accidents along the way it can take more time than that, sometimes up to an hour and a half to two hours. That’s a lot of time to be alone in a car with nothing but music on the radio and thoughts in your head to keep you company.
Today’s commute was relatively speedy, clocking in at around forty minutes. But as fast as the traffic flow was, something I saw early on in the commute filled me with some mixed emotions that here I am at work for almost two hours now and I can’t let it go.
As I merged onto I-55 this morning far behind me in my rearview mirror I saw a pickup truck with what looked like fluttering flags waving behind it. This is not uncommon in this area, especially here at the tail end of the Fourth of July holiday weekend with U.S. flags flying everywhere.
As my car caught up to the speed of the flow of traffic, the pickup was closer in my rearview and I noticed something. The flag seemed to have more red in it than the typical stars & stripes version. Briefly I thought it was a Blackhawk Stanley Cup champ flag, but the closer it got and the better look I could see of it I realized it wasn’t that either. Red flag with a blue X and white stars. This person was flying two Confederate flags of the back of his pickup.
We’re nineteen days removed from the church shooting in Charleston that killed nine people and sparked current debate over whether or not that flag should be flown, whether it be outside the South Carolina State capitol in Columbia or anywhere else. We’re almost 149 years removed from when Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9 and Andrew Johnson’s proclamation of the end of the Civil War on August 20, 1866.
But here it is, Monday, July 6, 2015, and here’s this guy speeding down the highway flying these flags. When I realized what they were, I actually took my foot off the accelerator and wanted the truck to catch up. I wanted to get a good look at who this person was. I was tempted to blow off work and get behind him and actually follow him to where ever he was going. At first, I really wanted to just ask him “Why? Why do you have those flags on the back of your truck?” But that thought of curiosity quickly turned to anger and a bit of road rage. I wanted to follow him and do something to those flags. Do something to the truck itself like slash the tires or something. Burn the flags and hope the truck goes up in flames with it. I didn’t want to hear any backward justification for this. Deep down I felt I could guess what the motives were. I felt like I knew what was going on here without even knowing a thing about the person driving that truck. Asking him questions was going to do nothing in this situation. I no longer feel like some people who are so stuck in their ways that they can be reasoned with.
The truck pulled off to the Route 59 exit near Shorewood. I wasn’t really going to follow him, but I wasn’t going to get a good look at the driver as I wanted to either. I grabbed my phone and took a wild picture over my shoulder hoping to get a shot, but it didn’t work out quite as I hoped. You see a cropped version of that here in this post. I put the phone down and continued on to work. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that truck.
I sent the picture to my wife Jen who often shares my disgust with certain segments of our human race. But even that wasn’t enough. Thoughts and words have been bouncing through my head all morning and I needed to write them down. It’s not going to make any sense of it. I just thought writing it down was a way to record the memory and then put it behind me. Get over a temporary feeling to do physical harm, a feeling I rarely if ever let myself get to that point. On one hand I wanted to do something to those flags. Some kind of symbolic gesture of good in the spirit of Bree. On the other hand I wanted to see that truck explode in a fireball for everyone to see.
I’ve read a lot of good articles about this the last few weeks. I wish people would read more. And learn more. Learn to use the brain inside their head to reason, not just regurgitate falsehoods and the poor judgement of others before them. The Atlantic had a good article What This Cruel War Was Over, explicitly stating in the very words of the leaders of the Confederacy what they were fighting for when they decided to divide the country in two. It was NOT about States rights. The racism and pro-slavery rhetoric was plain to see in their own words.
We’re supposed to learn from history, correct mistakes of the past. But therein lies the problem: it’s not that we don’t learn, it’s that some aren’t taught the truth. Emma Brown wrote a good article in The Washington Post about how The Civil War is taught in schools and it’s disturbing. Facts omitted, points of view taking precedence over what actually happened, all in order to not offend particular peoples sensibilities or to gloss over details that end up marginalizing other people. It’s the politicalization of education to warp minds. Revisionist historians, religious fanatics censoring science textbooks, modern day bookburning to discourage clear independent thought. Those who are scared about indoctrinating their children’s impressionable minds with “liberal” thinking are doing the very same thing to them by instilling their narrow conservative world views in order to protect their Anglo Christian Caucasian American Exceptionalism at all costs. The dumbing down of America. Idiocracy.
So to that person driving that pickup truck with his confederate flags waving in the wind, I don’t know where you were going today. I have a feeling I know where you’ve been. I feel sorry for you and I hope someday your eyes will be opened. You’ll take those flags down and burn them. You’ll learn to live without hate and see people as equals. Someday I’ll get there too. I have hate in my blood that shows its ugly head from time to time like it did today. Today, I hated you. I usually hate myself for hating anything. Not this time.