I’ve not had much contact with the military in my life. I’ve got an uncle who reached a very high rank in the Marines, and my grandfathers both served in the military during World War Two. But other than that, I’d not spoken with many people who served in the military.
One notable exception was when I was living in San Diego as a Mormon missionary. I had a long conversation with a sailor in the Navy. I remember asking him about anti-military protestors (we weren’t at war back then) and how they affected their morale. He said they didn’t bother him at all. As a matter of fact, he was happy those people were able to express their opinions in a country where dissent was tolerated and sometimes even encouraged. “So even if they don’t like me, the freedom to express that is my gift to them,” he said.
That was over 20 years ago, but that conversation stuck with me. In the years since, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in the comfort of my home or an office spouting off in print about my dissatisfactions with one government policy or another. Once I even went out on a warm Los Angeles afternoon and walked with thousands of protesters against the imminent invasion of Iraq.
But in my comfort, I’ve tried not to forget about the immense privilege granted me by those willing to serve their country. They put their lives on the line to create a safe space were peaceniks can march in the plaza or Glenn Beck can spin nutty theories on television, or comedians can merciless mock our elected leaders. It’s an amazing gift we’ve been given. That we can pretty much take that gift for granted is proof of how complete that gift is.
So on this Veteran’s Day, those of us who are fat and pampered need to find a way to say “thanks” to those who serve their country every day. Ideally, you could just find one to say “thanks” to in person. In lieu of that, perhaps the best thing we can do is take good care of those freedoms that people have fought so hard for.
It’s their job to fight for their country. It’s our job to make sure it’s a country worth fighting for.