Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reflecting on Military Service

I mentioned last week that I was going to an NFL pre-season game with a couple of buddies. I am unhappy to admit that my Chargers lost the (meaningless) game, but there was another item that I briefly wanted to talk about.

San Diego is a military city, with significant influence from the navy in our harbor and from the marines up north at Camp Pendleton. With the area’s ties to the military, there are frequently “fly-overs” before games, in which a couple of military jets loudly fly over the stadium. The game I went to had the jet fighters fly over, but it also featured another military aspect.

At halftime, a group of young veterans, some younger than I am, made their way to mid-field. These men were being honored as local heroes. All of them had received the purple heart for their service, and nearly every one of them was missing at least one leg. Their wounds were most frequently the result of IED explosions, though at least one man had been mutilated by a suicide bomber and another had been shot.

As we all remember, last week was (at least) an unpredictable week for the stock market. Many of us spent some time considering whether or not our investments were sound, whether and at what point we should consider selling, and how frustrated we were that partisan politics was affecting our retirement plans in a very negative way. Given how the market looks today, it seems those of us who held onto our investments were in the right. Still, last week with the S&P’s downgrade of the U.S.’s credit, there was a very real sense that the sky was falling, and all we Chicken Littles could do was watch it happen.

But as I stood there, watching the soldiers who were willing to give their lives for this country, my irritation melted, and I began to feel ashamed. All last week, I was frustrated at the government and the economy, when these men believed in America enough to put their lives on the line. How blessed am I to have both arms and legs? How blessed am I to even have retirement accounts? How blessed am I to not be in want?

In twenty-first century America, things are tough all over, and prudent spending and saving can go a long ways toward achieving goals that we set out for ourselves. But no amount of money can keep us alive indefinitely, and no amount of planning can entirely save us from the unknown. The only thing we are able to directly control is our own attitudes about what is happening. Seeing the veterans was a good reminder to me that it wouldn’t be the worst thing to be more optimistic in general.

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