As I was walking the other day, I came across something lying in the dirt, hidden away under a bush. A dirty, tattered piece of silk cloth, a banner I knew well. As I looked down upon it, I thought of the men who had carried it and the men who had marched behind it.
I knew when I picked it up that some still carried it. I knew that others carried banners that ranged from almost identical to vastly different, yet still called their banner by the same name. I knew that they were not the same and never could be.
I took that banner home and cleaned and mended it as best I could. I did not have the skill of those who made it. It would never be the same.
As I sat there holding it, I remembered seeing in the distance, those who carried it and marched behind it. I did my best to follow where they trod. They had blazed the trail that others followed. I know that at times I lost the path. I took the harder way. Yet in my mind was that banner, always there, somewhere in front of me. I knew others had stopped along the way. some could not continue, and returned home to the life they once lived. Others went off in their own direction, under the banners they made for themselves.
As I held the old banner, I cried for what had once been. What now seemed gone forever. Have they all gone by the wayside I asked? Have they taken a different path that I have not found? The vanguard has vanished and I have found nought but traces of those who formed the second ranks. Sometimes I still catch sight of the rearguard of that host of men. By ones and twos they still lead the way. I believe they still lead the way. I still do my best to follow where they lead.
I ask myself what should be done with the old banner? Should one of those I still find be given it? Would they take it? Would others follow it if it were raised once more? I sit here pondering those questions.
Should there be those who lead and set the standard for others to follow? Should not each man be sufficient unto himself and find his own way forward, wherever that may lead him? Many of those who have made their own banners and seek followers would say that they should lead, and all should follow them. Others say that they seek their own path, and you may follow if you wish, but they travel for themselves, not to help others.
I look back and know that there are some who follow behind me, sometimes watching for the markers I have left. They have never seen those who once led the way, only those who followed far behind. What should be done for them?
For now...I sit beside the fire holding an old piece of silk, a banner that once proudly flew, and ask questions. I do not have the answers.
As I looked at the banner I noted how it had been patched before. Several hands had worked on it. Some did better work than others. I looked again at what I had done. It did not please me. It was not what I knew it could be. My work did not reflect well upon me. Taking a deep breath, I removed everything I had done, stitch by stitch. There in the dim light I started over. This time I would take my time. I would do the best I could do. It might still not match what was done before but it would be worthy of their efforts.
In the dark of night I finished. I knew that I had found my answer. I now knew what to do. Standing and stretching I pondered how best to show that the old banner was whole once more. Spying an old, rusted spear some warrior had left behind long ago, I had my answer. Not a blunt pole or noble bird to top this staff, but a blade and point, sharp and keen.
This spear was dull and rusty, its tip broken off. A problem I can solve. Slowly through the night I worked with oil and grindstone, with sweat and will. A new point too shape. A leaner, sharper point now graced that spear with edges once again sharp and ready. The rust gone and bright steel showing forth once more.
I slowly affixed the old banner to the shaft of the spear. Just below the steel, silk now draped. I held it high aloft so that a freshening breeze might catch it and noticed the spearpoint gleaming, as if glowing in the dark. No, not glowing, but reflecting the beginnings of the dawn.
When I had started this night was falling. Darkness set in with all its bleakness. I had worked through until the dawn. Now a new day was starting. The old banner would be seen in the new light to show the path to those who were still in the dark, yet followed on as best they could. It also served as a beacon to those ahead who might chance to look back on their journey and might yet remember it.
It is said that things are the darkest just before the dawn. On each journey some darkness must fall. Yet, if we continue, that darkness too will fade and we will come once more into the light with a better understanding of who and what we are...what path we have chosen to follow. It is not so much that something like a banner denotes a leader as much as it serves as a remembrance of what was and what will one day be.