My favorite house is the One With The Flags. It is a beautiful house on a shaded street. It has trimmed roses and, as a salute to the cycling culture of our city, a number of brightly painted bicycles mounted on the fence as cheerful sculptures. But, most significantly, it is a house with a flag pole out front, and every single day it sails a national flag from somewhere in the world. I have seen flags from every corner of the globe. There are bold flags (Japan), intricately shaped flags (Nepal), and flags from countries I didn’t know existed (the British Virgin Isles). A small whiteboard tucked at the base of the flagpole helps us passers-by place a pin on our mental map from whence the standard up above hails.
The flag house is a gift to our community. A different flag flies every day: a patriotic repertoire of over a hundred. Every time I drive past, I see a vibrant, visual salute to somewhere far away: someone else’s country, someone else’s homeland, and as an immigrant living in this city I call home—it makes me feel at home like nothing else does. We’re in the USA, but the world beyond its borders is recognized, named, honored, and celebrated.
Curiosity finally led me to knock on the door and meet the owner. As it turns out, the rambling homestead is inhabited by an elderly lady: born to Scottish parents in the West Indies but who now lives in the USA. Her husband had worked in a field that brought many international visitors to their home over the years. Her eyes sparkled with memories as she recounted how, in an effort to make her foreign guests feel welcome, she had tried to find flags from their countries of origin to fly on the day they came to visit. “Every guest we ever had commented on it,” she told me. “It was a small thing but it made such a big difference.”
I nodded. Even from afar, her small, faithful discipline of celebrating the countries of the world had made a difference to me.
Nelson Mandela passed away on my birthday year before last. I hardly recognized the sadness I was carrying until I drove by the Flag House and noticed the South African flag at half mast in his honor. Finding my home country’s flag in a suburban American garden brought a release of tears I had been holding onto for days.
My mind flew back to other moments of feeling undone by some small act of kindness.
A tiny chocolate, left on my pillow when I was afraid our sudden visit made us unwelcome guests.
Someone remembering my name the second time I showed up at church: new-to-town, trembling and vulnerable.
A friend dropping to her knees to listen to my four-year-old’s story.
A link to a song, sent on a trying day.
A hand-written note.
To be remembered, recognized, named and honored—these were the things Jesus excelled at. He remembered the forgettable. He threw his arms open wide to children. He had dinner with Zaccheus, despite his bad rep for creative accounting. He spent time weeping with the mourners at Lazarus’ grave, even though he knew a miracle was in the wings. He took the time to listen to the Samaritan woman’s story, and to pause his flint-faced journey towards Jerusalem to hear the plea of pitiful Bartimaeus.
I get the feeling he would have loved the House with the Flags, too.