This past Tuesday was another of those rare days that seems to set this country apart from so much of the world.
Peaceful may be in the eye of the beholder, but a national election was held during which tens of millions voted in a transition of power that remains a wonder more than 230 years after the Founding Fathers decided on this course of avoiding a monarchy they so disdained.
The Electoral College, well, that requires some leaps of logic for those of the modern world to comprehend, but even in assigning number values to states based on population those that founded this country sought as fair a way as possible to make this quadrennial transition possible.
But the right to vote, to in privacy decide on the direction you want government to go, that is something to be held tight, something precious.
Remember the smiles through tears from those Iraqis allowed the right to vote for the first time, proudly displaying the inked thumb that stood for their sticker of red-white-and-blue.
And maybe there is symmetry to the week beginning with the national election and ending in a salute to veterans, which will begin at 9 a.m. ET this Friday at Port St. Joe Junior-Senior High School.
For as amazing as the right to vote is and the power it conveys to the people in a time of government assessment, is that for generation after generation for those same 230-plus years there have been men and women willing to don a uniform and lay down their lives for that vote.
Not that I came to that understanding and appreciation easily.
In speaking to Will Rambeaux, a Nashville songwriter, about the recent Blast on the Bay Songwriters’ Festival, we found common ground in our path to appreciation for those that wear the uniform.
Approximately of the same age and generation, our path to appreciation was likely similar.
What young boy didn’t covet ownership or the chance to play Army. I did without comprehending what war was beyond the television or movie screen, where everything about it was abstract, from the men rushing toward bullets to the deaths.
As a young adult came Vietnam, a war that tested the fabric of the nation and as a hormonal teenager, tested the measure for coolness in our high school.
I lived a few blocks from a college campus and in those days the military was a source of rage because men, such as one of my older brother’s best friends, were fighting and dying in a war seemingly without end.
That conflict seems abbreviated compared to Afghanistan.
Vietnam also brought the first of what is now taken for granted in the information age – television reporting from the jungles where bullets screamed overhead and men fought for yards of ground.
At that time, Clifford Sims was not even on my radar.
My younger brother and I talked of going into the Marines under the buddy system, but I decided I liked the college life more – too dadgum fun – and he went off for four years, blacksmithing his body against the anvil of the military regimen, seeing the world and coming out with a career that has served him well.
College soon decided that, for the time, it was pretty much done with me.
I followed what I was pursuing to a career in security, first at Disney World and then, as security morphed into loss prevention, with Marriott and a string of hotels.
I thrived, but so too did my brother and I pondered with curiosity what the military had offered my brother, what had he taken away that so improved him as a, cliché alert, productive and constructive person.
Those lessons did not seem to come as easy to me.
And in time, life interceded and I found this spot on the map, returned to college, earned a degree and an internship that was the launching pad for a second career that has spanned two decades and pointed me, ultimately, to this place and time.
And slowly, as a dripping faucet fills a bucket, my appreciation filled me up.
I learned about the life of Clifford Sims and the sacrifices he made in those jungles I had seen on television and now watched on cable.
I met Capt. Dave Maddox, the late George Core and other county residents part of the Greatest Generation – they surely existed throughout my journey, but I did not notice or appreciate them – and who had fought in World War II.
I came to cover annual Veterans Day events in this county that bring chills and moisten eyes. Covered Semper Fi Sister Beach Blasts, Wounded Warrior Weekends, and the appreciation of why these men and women do what I did not came into focus.
Because the why is really pretty straightforward among those in uniform, who have sacrificed, who have lost limbs and buddies and too often carry unseen scars out of the fog of war.
The country called.
Called for men and women willing to set aside the inevitable fear of the war zone and stand, fight, defend freedoms and tenets set down more than 230 years ago.
And these men and women answered, tamping ego for the whole, learning the discipline of sacrifice, the ability to conquer all too human frailties for a country born of a theory.
I have learned, like Will Rambeaux, to appreciate those veterans, not just this week but the other 51 as well.