Though unfortunate, it is human nature to take what we have for granted. Every once in a while, we need reminders about how lucky we are.

In late May, my family hosted a French high school exchange student named Nicholas. My son had stayed with Nicholas’ family for a couple weeks in April. Now, it was our turn to host him.

It was a great experience for all involved. My son got the chance to visit northern France and see that there is life outside of the west side of Cincinnati. Similarly, our French friend got to experience everyday life in the Midwest during his first visit to the States. Nicholas said some of what he appreciated was how much bigger everything was here, how inexpensive our products are, our nifty cars and (not surprisingly) cute American girls.

For me, hosting Nicholas was a table-turner. I frequently travel to see new manufacturing technology at international trade shows and foreign equipment builders’ plants. Chats with those I meet abroad commonly extend beyond industry topics, whereby they highlight their country’s culture, history and way of life. I always appreciate the zeal they bring to such conversations as they describe what they love about where they call home. In hosting our exchange student, I was able to do the same, pointing out the aspects of my town that I value, as well as the freedoms and opportunities we’re afforded here in the States.

Soon after seeing him off to France, we celebrated Memorial Day. This year’s holiday seemed more meaningful to me, and I’m glad for that. For the second year, my brother, Richie, hosted the “Memorial Day Murph” event, for which I served as the photographer. This charity event is named after Medal of Honor recipient Michael Murphy who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005. It is a fundraiser for military-based charities with events held all across the country. Participants perform a workout that the Navy lieutenant developed (the “Murph”), which consists of a mile run followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and another mile run. Because he reached his goal of registering 40 participants for his event, my brother completed the exercises in his full firefighter gear. Spending part of Memorial Day there helped me focus more intently on the true purpose of this holiday: appreciating those who have paid the ultimate price to enable us to pursue happiness.

During this month’s Independence Day, I’ll grill out with the family and ooh and ahh underneath fireworks like always. But I’m also going to think more about our forefathers who put everything on the line to secure the rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence. (Mark Albert touches on this here.) Ideally, trigger agents like these shouldn’t be needed to recall the sacrifices others have made or to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to live in the USA. But when they do come along, let’s not miss the opportunity to focus on what they really represent.