Jul 9, 2009
some days, some weeks, some months, some years, throw crap at you. sometimes nuisance-level, other times life-changing, challenging. a death. a break up. illness. losing a job. losing a friend, a beloved. losing hope. failure.
at Suffield a soldier died. I’ve written about it. wrote a sonnet for him, Death on Ex. I remember the amazing sunrise of the morning when he was found. a late spring morning on the prairie. I gave the sonnet to a Padre who had served the dead soldier, who had witnessed for the MPs and the soldier’s mates. a Padre distraught and angry as one is in trying times. I thought my words temporal. worried that they might be exploitive or too vague… all the worries most writers feel when shooting words out into the greater world. a month after the death I received an email from the Padre and a sermon in which he had included my sonnet. I was stunned. honoured to learn that my words had helped Padre deal with the death himself.
a few days later I phoned the Padre and told him how soldier’s death kept coming to me from different angles, different locations. a brother soldier who expressed grief. another contempt. another anger…young men grappling with death of a seemingly meaningless kind. so different than the death they trained for.
and I asked one of the soldiers. “how did you guys cope with it? what did your OC have you do?” because I saw some of the brother soldiers during the live-fire Ex. that day and was amazed that they could function at all.
“we just did our job.” soldier replied, “Charlie Mike, Continue Mission… keep going.”
on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela there were days of clear sky, fields of wildflowers, a cool breeze. but there were days when our feet were sucked into a foot of mud and each step was hard and the pack was heavy and the distance unbearable. lately, my days have felt this way. that the load is unbearable. but my phone has been ringing. someone dropped off a beautiful meal. another one came all the way from Scotland to spend an hour with me. she bore beautiful books, gifts from the old country, and more importantly her shoulder wide and comforting.
and there was an email from a Sgt. I met at Wainwright. an Afghan vet. lots of T.I. (Time In) in theatre, he was a mentor in Wainwrightistan. I watched him give a 20 minute corrective lesson on how to plan, prepare, rehearse and execute a patrol that I guarantee will save the lives of soldiers and civilians. he also gave the best thumbnail sketch of the context and the meaning of a war artist that I have heard. I could feel the light bulbs snap on as the soldiers who previously had tolerated me, now understood why Generals have wanted war artists with the troops for over 90 years.
Sgt.‘s email came with a greeting and the offer of a loan of his Pashto book and CD. so today, feeling really crappy, I went downtown to the armoury and picked up the book.
it was good to see Sgt. C again. hardly recognized him out of his CADPAT. I told him that after I saw him at Spin, I returned under a burka. he laughed and asked what that was like then handed over his book. “won’t be needing that again. keep it for a year.”
I thanked him and headed out again. my spirits still grey but lifted a bit. I thought about all those soldiers whose comrades are injured or killed and how they keep going. one young soldier that I know has been to 30 ramp ceremonies.
little kindnesses keep us going. like the loan of a book. a telephone call from out of the blue. an email. a sense of purpose. little kindnesses.
and the job we have set out for ourselves.
and this is mine. for now.