The dreariness of the weather matched the sombre mood of all on parade. The day was the 11th of November 2008. November the 11th is a day of great significance in Canada, that we all call Remembrance Day, a day that collectively the people of Canada takes time to pause, remember and give thanks to the men and woman who have served our great nation in the military for the cause of peace.
As the final notes of the “last post” sounded across the parade square, the uneasy quiet of the rows upon rows of soldiers standing at attention was shattered as the artillery guns fired the first rate of the funeral salute. Even with the noise as well as the pomp and ceremony that was all around, it would be hard for one not to be lost in his or hers own thoughts concerning the significance of this day. For me, Remembrance Day has always had great significance and more so now as a Canadian Army Medic.
As the snow began to fall lightly at first, it’s swirling patterns matched the swirling thoughts within as I was contemplating going to Afghanistan in spring 2009 on my first combat mission as a medic. Little did I know then that Remembrance Day would forever afterwards take on a totally new meaning and significance for me.
And so here we are 11 November 2018 once again giving thanks on Remembrance Day. Though a lot has changed in 10 years since that dreary day caught between rain and snow. To begin, my family has now grown, then from 4 children as well as my wife and I to the 8 of us. It’s funny how time has a way of playing tricks on us. When I was growing up, I came from a family of 8 and I swore that I would never do the same thing, and yet here we are the 8 of us, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Secondly, when people gather to give thanks and remember those who have gone to war on their behalf, I am now one of those who is remembered. Once again, life has a funny way of playing tricks on us. As a teenager, I was a rabid antiwar advocate. From my clothing, the music I listened to, to the way I lived my life gave testimony to my disdain concerning war. Nothing in that regards has changed, I still hate war. I heard someone once speak about the topic of war that sums up my feelings exactly. “war is not about the hatred for the enemy in front of you as much as it’s about your love for those behind you.” After 9/11 something changed in me. Even though I’m Canadian and the events of 9/11 did not directly affect me or my country, it did affect my neighbours to the South very deeply. So in the same way that I would never tolerate the abuse of my neighbour down the street, I could not stand idly by while America was being attacked, they are my neighbour. So after I received my diploma from college as a paramedic, I rejoined the Army knowing very well that I may be called upon to ante-up and go to Afghanistan. Never then, did I know what the cost would be, but I feel I can share in the sentiment of General Eisenhower when he said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.“
Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely proud of what I was a part of there. How often can you say I get to save lives, well in Kandahar I could say that almost every day. Yes, there were days that it was the opposite but thankfully our averages leaned far greater to lives saved than lives lost. I’ve often said to myself and others that knowing what I know now, would I do it again? That’s a hard one. Once I read an editorial in a major newspaper asking one simple question. “Now that Canada has pulled out of Afghanistan, when you consider the lives lost and the war still goes on, was it worth it?” I’m not one to answer many editorials but this one I felt compelled to. My response was something like as follows; “When we ask was it worth it, it would first be important to consider to whom you are asking the question. Has this question been asked of any girl, who for the first time in her families history, is now able to go to school and with that have a real possibility at a future? Or perhaps you should ask the many soldiers and civilians who are still alive, who perhaps without Canada running the Multinational hospital in Kandahar would not be here to tell their story. Maybe you should ask the parents, brothers and sisters, spouses and children of those who have come back home, either of their own ability or in a flag-draped coffin if it was worth it? I for one will never forget and nor do I wish too.”
So this brings me back to the topic of Remembrance Day. Now I actually have something to remember, now that I can remember the faces of those who were won and lost. The faces of the children, who for no fault of their own were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like the one child, we treated for a double amputation below the knees simply because he decided to take a different way home than usual and is now the victim of another senseless landmine accident. Their screams that still wake me in the night and the visions that invade my thoughts during the day. Now that I have been diagnosed with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder and as a result, I had to be medically but honourably discharged from the military. With all these thoughts and memories swirling in my mind like the first few flakes of snow on that same parade square so many years ago, would I do it again? YES, I would. For those of us that can remember the events of 11 September 2001, there is one thing that stands out to me beyond the senseless waste and loss of life, the airplanes and collapsing buildings, that is the rescue workers. The countless men and woman of the New York Fire, Police and EMS, who despite everyone running from the danger, they, instead were running towards it. Something like this far out shadows “just doing my job.” This is the heart of a warrior. A warrior is one whether at home or abroad who stands on some imaginary line often not of their own making, stare death and evil in the eye and say, “ You are not crossing this line even if it costs me my life to stop you.”
Now with slight reservation, I now count myself among the ranks of the warriors that have gone on before me. And one thing you’re not going to hear from any of those warriors is that they are heroes. In fact, when anyone has tried to attach that label to me, I will humbly deny the honour, because it’s not mine to wear. If you think I should, maybe you wouldn’t think so if you saw me when I was saying goodbye to my family at the airport on the way to Afghanistan. I was crying like a baby and so were they. A word of advice I was given from another soldier prior to leaving is “once you say your goodbyes and you turn to leave, don’t look back.” Well, I didn’t listen, instead, when I got to the corner my heart ached for one more glimpse of the ones I love. So contrary to sound wisdom, I turned around to see them one last time. What I saw was my 5-year-old daughter sobbing bitterly, holding on to the leg of my wife, her mother.
Now that PTSD is now a part of my life, in many respects, I don’t even know who I am sometimes. Everything that I once held on to so dearly, everything I thought I was and will achieve, has over the past several years have been slipping through my fingers. Everything I thought I was is vanishing with the same winds that blew across that parade square 10 years ago. It’s all been nothing but a facade, but that brings me to my final thoughts; change whether we want it, it is a good thing. Have you ever seen an old building restored to its original grandeur? The process is not just a mere fresh coat of paint and the sweeping out of the lobby. No, the process is far greater than that; no coat of paint will ever cover up the defects that are plainly visible. No, often the building has to be gutted, walls that were crumbling have to be rebuilt or even replaced. The wiring and the plumbing need to be ripped out and replaced so that the building is up to code, and the inside is redecorated in order to match the purposes and designs of the master builder. And finally, there is the outside or the facade. All the years of paint, dirt and pollution have to be removed in order that the outside matches the beauty of the inside. Often that process of stripping the exterior facade of a building is accomplished through the process of sandblasting. The process of sandblasting is where sand under very high pressure is forcibly sprayed against a surface in order to remove any foreign material like paint and grime from the surface of an object. The thing is, that once the process is complete, and the dust has settled, that same building no longer resembles what they years have marked it with, instead it now reveals the original design it was always meant to wear.
That, in many respects, is what PTSD is. It strips all the false facades that we’ve put up for one reason or another. The process is not an easy one, in fact, it can be very painful. The fear and anxiety that I have faced as I’ve groped around in the darkness looking for anything that may resemble my former life are now gone. But for me at least there is good news. I believe that the process of my own personal sandblasting due to PTSD is now revealing who I really am according to the Master Builder, God’s original design. In Romans 8:28 it says; “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Holy Bible NKJV Now am I saying that my loving God has brought PTSD upon me? No, that would be cruel and not fitting at all with the loving, tender character of Jesus. Once again the bible tells us; “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33. To bring such a disaster upon me would be completely contrary to His nature, instead, He has used what was meant to destroy me and is using it for His glory and my benefit. Since PTSD has invaded my life, I’m no longer the serious stern taskmaster that the Army so loved (perhaps that’s one of the reasons they got rid of me) with very little imagination and always willing to follow someone else’s path that they made for me. Instead, in some ways my inner child is coming out, that often silly child that no one including myself can predict. As a child, I could spend hours immersed in a variety of art projects or imagining some of the wildest stories imaginable. Well, thanks be to God, if that is my original design, then in many ways that is what is being revealed in me, the mystery is, I haven’t a clue what’s next.