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Holinger: Protective robins, supportive turtles and vigilant guardians

We still have our Christmas decorations up. Well, actually, just one, a basket perched outside our front door with twigs bearing brittle, pale green pine needles and a few stems peppered with red berries.

Incredibly, a mother robin made her nest behind the dried-out assemblage, and every time we use the front door she flutters off, making us feel guilty we disturbed her plan to bring life into the world.

Heroic as mother robin proves to be, her intrepid mate matches her valor. No matter how monstrous his adversary, including my son’s 3-ton pickup truck, black and menacing as Darth Vader’s helmet, he defends the nest.

First he perches outside the closed passenger window, flitting up and down, apparently trying to get at the offending robin reflected inside. He drops multiple lines of angry white waste down the side of the door, creating a lovely chiaroscuro effect. Then he flies atop the sideview mirror and repeats his unique decorative technique. Next he hops on the hood and plays woodpecker, his beak beating the hard, hot surface repeatedly as if trying to break into the engine where he can do some real damage.

“How caring and loyal!” I muse later, a wet paper towel in hand turning his white lines into a finger painting. “Tirelessly struggling to protect his mate and future generations!”

Robins, however, have nothing on turtles when it comes to helping behavior. A YouTube video reveals a group of turtles with shells the size of dinner plates swimming lazily until seeing a distressed brother or sister upside down, paddling furiously, helplessly, in circles. As if an army instructor had drilled them for hours, slowly they converge and use their heads to nudge their companion right-side up. Bravo!

For us humans, sometimes it’s a no-brainer to offer assistance. Recently, boarding a flight, my wife and I found empty seats next to the midplane emergency exit door. Just before takeoff, a flight attendant addressed us and those nearby, asking us to audibly agree, in case of an emergency, to help with evacuation.

“All together,” she prompted as if asking for a Congressional voice vote, and our makeshift chorus assured her, “Yeah,” “Sure,” “OK.”

“What are the odds we have to make that promise good?” we were probably thinking, then wondering, “Would I really do what I promised? Sure. Absolutely. Maybe. Let me think on it.”

But we had pledged, and that was something.

Nothing, however, compares to what those in the U.S. armed services pledge and deliver. It could be, and too often is, their lives.

On Memorial Day we remember their indefatigable devotion to bringing down an enemy whose metal must be overcome.

We remember soldiers, sailors and pilots working together to right wrongs.

And we remember the men and women who take an oath to hold the door open so the vulnerable and defenseless may be brought out of harm’s way.

We also thank and remember the families of those fallen heroes, the mothers, father, and grandparents who revere their deaths long after their loved ones have perished so we might have the freedom to vote and the freedom to call out the liars and conspirators who threaten our democracy.

It’s up to us to carry those dead heroes’ names and actions forward, to fulfill the promise they would have us fulfill.