As we walked down Gervais Street in Columbia moments after the Confederate flag ended a half-century run on the S.C. State House grounds, we happened upon a newer model pick-up truck.
My wife and two kids joined scores of others to watch the flag be furled, effectively allowing my native state to rejoin the Union 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
I didn’t notice if it was a Ford or Chevy because I was too busy noticing something else: two over-sized Confederate flags hanging from poles on both sides of the bed of the truck.
Then I noticed the woman in the passenger’s seat noticing that I had noticed the flags. With a scowl on her face, she began to mumble something my way, but I quickly looked straight ahead with a smile on my face — because I didn’t care what she was saying.
I didn’t care if she thought the flag was about honoring her ancestors, not the Ku Klux Klan.
Didn’t care if she believed the “War of Northern Aggression” was the fault of that “scalawag” Abraham Lincoln or that it had nothing to do with slavery or if she just liked the flag’s colors.
We were just two private citizens with different views of that flag and probably about what counts as Southern history and which parts should be celebrated or mourned.
She could wrap the flag around herself the way I saw maybe a half dozen people do at the State House.
And because the state of South Carolina no longer had its thumb on the scale, it would no longer matter to me.
It was a refreshing revelation.
An emotional cloud I tried to ignore for years had been lifted during a seven-minute ceremony that included about a 5-second descent of the Confederate battle flag from a spot where it never should have flown.
I understand that though the flag is gone, greeting me at the Gervais Street entrance to the State House is a large monument to a man who bragged about lynching black people for political power and an even larger monument to Confederate soldiers.
I understand that the “Corridor of Shame” schools, which have failed too many minority residents (and more than a few poor white ones) for decades, haven’t been fixed.
I know that it makes little sense that it took nine black people being gunned down in a church before legislators in Columbia had the courage to do the obviously right thing, which should temper any claims of their vote being heroic.
I get that there’s still too much child poverty in South Carolina, that we must not lose sight of the need for progress on those issues just because the flag isn’t flying.
That the flag is gone, though, makes it a little easier to believe that other seemingly-impossible changes can happen, too.