I was sitting very close to the Marines who unfolded the US flag, then refolded it with great precision: straighten the edges, tug, fold diagonally, crease, tug, fold, crease, continue until the end, tuck in the hem.
While I watched the resulting triangle flip over and over along it edges, I flashed back to another folding ceremony.
My father supervised as my sister and I each knelt over one end of a faded cotton sleeping bag. I guess he was tired of sloppy bundles that fell apart when he lifted them onto the upper shelves in the garage. We were going to learn the "right" way to roll and tie it.
So we practiced folding the bag in half lengthwise, bringing the edges together evenly. The developing cylinder would only hold together well if we started at the open end. At the same time, we had to exert enough pressure to keep it tight and tidy. Once we'd reached the foot of the bag, we straddled it and tied the cord around the middle. Then we carefully wrapped its cover around it, snapped it in place, and pulled the draw strings together at the sides. It was like calf roping, only it was a fat green tootsie roll.
I never did care about the sleeping bags, but the lesson stuck.
My first summer job required I make beds in a nursing home. At that time, both sheets were flat, not fitted. I had to position the sheet, wrap it under the mattress top and bottom. Then I made sharp, 45 degree angles and tucked the tails around the side corder, like wrapping a gift. If the sheet wasn't taut, it would get sloppy, and wriggle uncomfortably under the sleeper.
Six corners per bed, repeated over the course of the summer, I got pretty good at it.
Since then, I've expected every bed I sleep in to meet that standard. That's okay for beds, but unfortunately, I also think people should meet my standards. Inflexible expectations cause more relationship wrinkles than a slack sheet and more restless nights, too.
It's proper to be persnickety about the flag.
But people can't be folded, tugged, and creased into perfection. People need
People need grace.