I was recently in the Nashville airport to catch a Delta flight to Atlanta where another Delta flight would zip me to Tampa and a couple of days of tarpon fishing.
While waiting to be checked through security I happened to be standing near a solider. She was dressed in fatigues with an “airborne” shoulder patch. She was in the company of two kids – a toddler and a girl about 8 – and an older lady. By all appearances they were three generations of the same family: Mom, Grandmother and children.
The young girl was weeping softly; the Mom/solider and Grandmother nearly so. I watched them for a moment; wishing to help, not wanting to intrude. Then the security line moved and I was soon swallowed by the airport comings and goings. I didn’t see the solider again. I don’t know where she was bound but it almost certainly wasn’t to the beach to fish for tarpon.
I have the highest regard for our military but sometimes fear that I and others take these folks for granted. I did not serve in the military but like to think that if called, I would have gone and served bravely and with honor, although such thoughts are as pointless as dangling a fishing line in a creek without a hook.
I thought about the airport solider and her family often this week. She was particularly on my mind Saturday as I stood with one of my daughters watching our hometown Independence Day parade. There were flags and firetrucks and floats and politicians and veterans and tractors and horses and a kazoo band. It was all fun and entertaining and a big crowd had turned out to enjoy the show.
My daughter, now 20 and a college junior, watched passively. A truck rolled past hauling a somber display of paper grave markers and carrying a strong message against abortion. A few minutes later a man strolled by dressed as the Uncle Sam character. He was waving his arms and ranting that the national debt was going to rob future generations of the American dream. “Think of the grandchildren!” he yelled repeatedly. Some people standing nearby whispered that they thought the display was a bit embarrassing. They were welcome to their opinions.
I leaned toward my daughter and said, “You couldn’t do that in a lot countries.”
“Walk down the street and criticize the government or a government policy, like the anti-abortion float, and that guy dressed up as Uncle Sam. It wouldn’t be allowed. In many places in the world to do so would mean risking arrest, imprisonment or worse.”
Independence Day makes that possible. The solider in the airport and her compatriots – past and present – have kept and continue to keep it possible. But they aren’t the only ones. Everyone who works, votes, serves, leads . . . we each make it possible. What we mustn’t do is take it for granted.