The Flags

I used to work at an international summer camp in the remote wilds of New Hampshire. It was an amazing and inspiring place for many reasons, not least because of its commitment to bringing cultures together. We truly did have staff and students from all over the world. To welcome everyone on the first day of camp each year, we put out flags from all the nations we would be hosting that summer.

For a couple of summers one of my duties was doing the shopping runs to pick up the sundry items needed to keep camp ticking over (pipe cleaners, bug spray, paraffin wax, vegetable seeds, dowels, PVC piping, gallon jugs of sunscreen, first aid kits, spare tetherballs, ropes course helmets…I always had the most interesting shopping cart.) Before all the campers arrived, one of the very important items on that list was to check that we had flags for every country that would be represented that year. Then, armed with a list of flags we didn’t have yet, I would make my way to the flag store in Concord, NH. (You might not think there would be a pressing need for a fully stocked flag store in Concord, NH. You would be wrong.)

As we hung the flags on the camp’s main deck, it became a riot of festive colors. For me, hanging out the flags was always the moment when I began to feel that we were part of something truly worldwide, that we were in a place that would bring light and learning and warmth to an ever-growing circle of people. People who would go out into the world more thoughtful, kinder, and readier to push their boundaries by facing new challenges than they were when they came in–students and staff.

Now I live in London, and for several months I’ve been watching the city prepare for the Olympic games, getting ready to host the world for an event that shares many of the best qualities I always felt at camp. Yesterday I walked down Regent Street, currently bedecked with the flags of the world, welcoming all nations to London. As I walked under them I had the very same feelings of pride, of welcoming, of being part of something greater than myself, that I used to have when preparing the flags at camp.