Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: war

Weekly Column: Let’s Always Remember

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 5, 2018. 

My grandfather was a WWII veteran. He died when I was nine, and so did the stories that he might have been inclined to share. I have old photos of him in uniform, and I know a few of the jolly stories – including how he courted my grandmother – family folklore that made us kids giggle. But I do not know the anguish, the pain, the horror he experienced as a WWII soldier.

Hence the silence that was draped all over my thoughts when, as a kid, I was passing by the cemetery. There were many rows of graves of WWI and WWII soldiers; the tombstones that said ‘unknown soldier’ were far more numerous than the ones with a name. Back then, as a child, I shuddered thinking what it must be like to lose my mom or dad that way.

Compassion Starts Where Judgment Ends

Initially published as  column on AM News, now part of NewsKamloops

This past week I was among the many people who got to see the photo of a little Syrian boy who washed up on the shores of Turkey as a result of the horrific crisis that has thousands of refugees flee Syria. It’s the kind of photo that shakes and rattles people’s hearts, whether they have children or not.

The crisis is not new and there are now 4 million refugees in five host countries and a total of 15 million people in need of assistance inside and outside of Syria, according to Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization presently on site in the Middle East.

While most people were horrified and considered the very image a visual of our failed humanity, some opinions opened the door to controversy and criticism. Peter Bucklitsch, UKip member and parliamentary candidate in the 2015 elections, said the boy was well dressed and well fed and his parents too greedy for the good life in Europe.

His tweet (deleted since) garnered supportive comments alongside highly critical ones. The ones defending the comment said there are plenty of hungry people already in the UK and other European countries lining up for food at food banks, there have been cuts that made impoverished people poorer and increased crime, and an influx of refugees would make matters worse.

Most people called him heartless and worse. Factually speaking, the comment is nothing but harsh judgment applied to people he knew nothing about and, from a compassionate point of view, there is little more one should say about a dead child other than ‘that is sad and unfortunate, unacceptable by anyone’s standards.’

Others argued that there are many children dying, not just in Syria, but in Ukraine and Africa and that a photo should not steal the front page the way this one did.

These are strange times indeed, where we can show our best or worst sides. There is no competition regarding children dying and where it happens most, and there should be no ‘us versus them’ either. A child that dies is one too many. To argue that too much attention is being given to one cases versus the others causes us all to lose track of what’s important and engage in useless rhetoric.

They do not call this situation a crisis for nothing. While political analysts are not entirely surprised to see how far it got, there are no adequate words to properly describe it either, which is why photographs are worth more than any. European governments have been accused of having supported the US war on the Middle East and North Africa for more than a decade, which lead to the displacements and desperation we see today.

It is overwhelming to say the least. More than half of the Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. In the context of the Western societies protecting their young ones, often to the point of bubble-wrapping, we have to think of what children in war-torn countries witness and go through, and what that says about our world as a whole.

There is no us and them, really. Race, colour and religion do not matter when we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis like the one taking place in Syria.

Some people wonder why anyone would opt to get themselves in shoddy boats in order to cross the Mediterranean Sea, putting themselves and their families, including children and infants, at risk of losing their lives.

Desperation is a mighty beast.

What would we all do if our country was subject to a war such as the one in Syria? How many of us would be willing to live in camps or outside of camps, never making an attempt to flee in search of a better life? How many of us would risk anything for that one chance to have it better for ourselves and our children?

I would argue that the world, troubled and exhausted as it seems, has enough resources still for all who live on it. When there is a will created by compassion in face of tragedy, there is a way to carry out good deeds.

It is easy to express judgment when removed from a situation. Trouble is, judgment stops compassion in its tracks. Whether we are talking about the missing Aboriginal women in Canada and the governmental lack of attention to it, or the human slavery that is still very much alive and an unfortunate part of the western world commercial goods market, or the humanitarian crises happening in many places around the world, allowing compassion to have a front seat reminds us of a simple truth: we are only as human as we allow ourselves to be by opening our minds and abstaining from judgment so that compassion can thrive instead.

The Need To Speak Up (Or Why Yet Another Day Is Still Not Enough)

Originally published on May 9, 2014 as a column in the AM News under the title ‘Is yet another day to honour veterans and remember the fallen enough?’ 

In a couple of days, some of us will observe two minutes of silence during the ceremonies for the National Day of Honour.

According to the PM’s office, May 9th is a day dedicated to ‘commemorating the strength and sacrifices made by the members of the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan, and to recognizing and supporting the friends and family of the fallen.’

It sounds better than it actually is, you’ll hear most veterans say. Reminders are good, but parades and official breakfast aside, a day is a day is a day.

You watch the parade, extend your condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in Afghanistan, shake the hands of those who made it back and the next day we’re all back to our daily life, feeling good about the honouring deed. It should not end there.

Over the last few months, nine members of the Canadian Armed Forces committed suicide. Their families and friends pointed to the lack of support most veterans face once they return from the war.

Whether you agree with the war idea in general and the Afghanistan war in particular, one thing is clear as daylight: soldiers do not go to vacation in war zones, nor do they go there on a personal mission. They represent Canada. Therefore, it is only expected that Canada would support them when they return.

Yet many find themselves falling through the cracks of a bureaucratic system that cannot accommodate the less elegant needs of a damaged-by-war soldier.

Hence the question: Would a day of honouring the veterans do?

Some soldiers argue that we already have Remembrance Day. Why not honour the Afghanistan veterans then, together with the rest of the veterans and put the funds spent on a day like May 9th aside for the needs far greater than a commemorating day?

While help is not completely missing, many of the veterans face severe uphill battles by themselves. People do not commit or attempt to commit suicide just because. Many of the modern day veterans suffer from visible and/or invisible wounds, many of which surface as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) months or years after they return from deployment.

They fight demons only they can see and they often end up breaking apart even from their loved ones, lost between a system that was supposed to help them get help and overwhelming desperation that pushes them to seek ultimate relief.

Every person is affected differently in a given situation. Some of the veterans return to their previous lives after deployment, some continue to serve as reservists and some are either discharged or choose to retire or take a leave of absence.

Regardless of their status, veterans need to know they are not alone once they are back. A census of some sort that keeps track of veterans long after they return from the war and thorough, periodic tests that would allow them to get the help they need when they need it is the least they should be offered after putting their lives on the line.

To some it may be a formality, nothing more than a yearly checkup, but to many it would be a lifeline and confirmation that they are not forgotten. Lest we forget sounds much better when backed up by facts.

Many of the Veterans Affairs offices that closed recently due to financial cuts added insult to injury once more, pointing to a reality many of us are not comfortable with. We are not taking care of our vulnerable ones.

When veterans get the short end of the stick, how are we to convince them and their families, and ourselves as a society that we act with respect and compassion towards our fellow citizens?

That a country and its government support a war is one thing. To support the returning veterans and their families is another. No Canadian veteran should ever feel like their life is worth nothing just because the war has ended.

If we are to commemorate the fallen and honour our veterans, let’s do it right on the days leading up to it and after as well.

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