Milestones and Memorials

By E. Adam Porter, Editor in Chief


Here we are in the merry month of May. Can you believe it? The calendar says we’re approaching the heart of spring, even though many of our friends in cooler climes just retired the snow shovel. Outside my window, the birds and other wild critters are scurrying around, entirely twitterpated.

In our home, especially this year, May is a month for milestones and memorials. Yours truly will celebrate another birthday and, hopefully, take a moment to appreciate what I’ve learned on this particular trip around the sun. As always, when I get misty and start to reminisce, a Jimmy Buffett tune comes to mind. This time, it’s “When the Coast is Clear,” in which Bubba takes a moment to reconnect with himself after all the tourists have gone back home. It’s a perspective that resonates with my Islander pedigree:

The tourist traps are empty

Vacancy abounds

Almost like it used to be

Before the circus came to town

That’s when it always happens

Same time every year

I come down to talk to me

When the coast is clear

Hello mister other me

It’s been a long time

We hardly get to have these chats

That in itself’s a crime…

Ain’t that the truth? Self-reflection is a pretty good investment every now and then, and it’s tough to find time when your neck deep in the hustle-and-bustle. For me, though, it’s a necessary luxury. If I’m not intentional about getting re-centered, I can easily slip into the manic routine and lose myself in it. This year, though, I’m not the only one in our clan contemplating or celebrating milestones in May.

Out in California, my eldest is looking ahead at life after the Air Force. He’s filed his intent to separate, and our cross-continent conversations are now all about What Comes Next. Whatever he chooses and wherever he goes, the young man will be an asset, as all of his commanders will tell you. The big question his mom wants to know, of course: Will he stay on the left coast or come home to Florida? Well… the girlfriend’s out there, so I know what my money’s on. Whatever he chooses, his six years in service to his country was time very well spent. He learned a lot about himself, about responsibility, accountability and manhood. Built lifelong friendships, made memories, and discovered just how big the world can be.

My middle son is about to embark on a milestone of his own. Three years ago, about this time, he came to me and begged to be allowed to join the Cub Scouts. He would indeed, be starting first grade that fall, so he was eligible. Though, because he started school early, he would be younger than the other kids in his den. Undeterred, he pressed, and I gladly relented. I appreciate and support what Scouting stands for. Tremendous values, skills, and perspectives that will serve him well all his life. Last week, he finished his time as a Bear Scout, crossing over to Webelos, a two-year program that prepares Cubs for the promotion to Boy Scouts. The big time, the premier league. He’s already talking about trying for Eagle.

The youngest Porter is also looking ahead. He finishes kindergarten in a few weeks, and he’s already asking to start first grade math. Our little scientist, he’s the kid who’s always up for a nature hike, who sprints outside to watch a turtle on the log in the river, captures grasshoppers, and stops to observe ants, not to squish them. His careful, intensely curious view of the world is an inspiring reminder to pause once in a while and, literally, smell the roses.

Later this month, all of us will stop for a day, at least, and commemorate those who gave their last full measure of devotion to this nation and her people. The man who penned that phrase was very specific as to the cause for which our brave veterans would invest their lives: a new birth of freedom.

Time and again, those sworn to military service wearing the red, white and blue, have shouldered a rifle and marched to meet their foe in defense of that new birth of freedom. Asa Philip Randolph said, “freedom is never given; it is won.” Coretta Scott King added, “You earn it and win it in every generation.”

There is no more poignant testament to that truism than the rows of markers in military cemeteries across this great nation — from Arlington, to Riverside National Cemetery in California, a stone’s throw from where my son now serves, across the big pond to Flanders and Cambridge and Normandy. Every grave is a reminder of the cost of freedom. It is the reason we stand when we hear the opening bars of Taps, and it’s the reason so many of our brave veterans wear a haunted look. They can see the ghosts, can feel them.

So, one day in May each year, those of us who enjoy that hard-won freedom do our best to borrow their eyes. To see and hear and feel the people who fought and died for their generation’s freedom. To remember, and appreciate the gift that cannot be given but must be won. So that, when their time comes, our children and grandchildren will stand and fight in their turn, and teach their children to honor those who gave everything to win the freedom they enjoy.