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Freedom is fragile

We are all experiencing different degrees of freedom while emerging from full lockdown to different phases of reopening.

As we celebrate Memorial Day in the U.S., it is important to remember that freedom is fragile, and to thank all of our military veterans and frontline people, particularly during this black swan event caused by COVID-19.

I have been grounded for nearly 10 weeks. Occasionally, I will reminisce about enjoying the Hilton Garden Inn, a stay in a Marriott or a flight on Delta Airlines. The other morning, while feeding cows and heifers at sunup, I saw a reminder of my days of freedom come over the Blue Ridge Mountains. A large Delta Airlines jet was making a final approach over the pasture and mountains, tipping its wings and teasing my inner emotions. For a moment, I thought about how I had taken for granted my freedom to hop on a jet, despite TSA screening, or ride in a rental car. I have been lucky to travel over 10 million air miles to all corners of the globe meeting people and even playing pickup basketball on occasion.

My thoughts quickly turned to all of the frontline people who are often taken for granted and who have served me and many others over the years: Kim at the airline counter in the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport; Bridget, Hilda and Mindy in the Delta Sky Clubs who are like family and place me on the fast track when flight issues occur; and Ken, the bellman at the Hilton in Omaha, who was given 50 shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock in high school a number of decades ago. Now, he is the millionaire next door and, despite being in his mid-80s, he still gets enjoyment from serving people.

Of course, many of you who have heard me speak know Roosevelt, my shoe shiner. He is my early-bird predictor of economic direction and I miss him. Dolores, a Hertz rental car employee, would provide me with Warren Buffett cars to break in before the annual Berkshire Hathaway investor event in Omaha. I chuckle to think about one employee at the Hilton Garden Inn in Manhattan, Kan. She would greet me by saying, “You are the reason we are filled up this evening with bankers.” This statement was followed by her inquiring about land values and interest rates.

I now wonder how all these people are doing. Their lives have been abruptly changed overnight with their loss of jobs and freedom that may be temporarily or permanently disrupted.

Memorial Day is a special day for me. In my youth, I would accompany my mother to place lilacs on the gravestones of relatives and friends who had served in the military. Later in life, Memorial Day is a time to think about my friends Ronnie, Bernie and Don, battle-scarred Marines who served in Vietnam.

While this column usually focuses on business, economics, and finance, let's depart for a moment to think about how our freedom is fragile. Make time to thank all of those who are laying everything on the line, whether in the military or the frontline people who are working through the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next week, raise your own spirits by calling or touching base with someone in need: the elderly, or those who have had their freedoms constrained. Elevate your spirits by giving back. A positive mindset is fed by a strong support network. Be sure to not take life’s many freedoms for granted.

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