You know, just when I think this province has nothing redeeming about it, something happens and I find myself stepping back and re-evaluating things, and perhaps cutting the Big Smoke a little slack.
Yesterday, overpasses along Hwy. 401 were again lined with a sea of red and white as hundreds of people gathered to honour the six soldiers killed in Afghanistan last week. They held Canadian Flags aloft, and draped them over the side of the overpass; they saluted, clapped and cheered the six hearses as they broke into view; a moving ribbon of black on the horizon.
This group of individuals was composed of Toronto paramedics, police, parents of soldiers overseas, and dozens of average citizens who thought it was important to take time out to thank and honour those who served their community abroad with their sacrifice.
To date, 66 Canadians and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002. Each time they come back, Canadians see the same sad rituals of the repatriation ceremony: stoic presence of politicians, the soldiers carrying caskets and trying to keep their emotions in check, family members who cling to each other as they watch each coffin unloaded and brought to the hearse, the salutes, and the tears. The lament for the young, brave, men and women whose lives were extinguished under stars they do not recognize.
At least we see it, and remember the cost of this mission. In the US, the government prohibits photographs of the coffins of U.S. troops returning home. They have the cost of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq counted down to the cent, but the human cost is taboo. While many Americans are appalled by this policy, it seems that coverage of Paris Hilton’s time in jail gets more media attention.
I have a friend from Newfoundland, Jeff Hogg, who has been to Afghanistan. He is among the lucky ones who have returned. Scarred, forever changed, but alive. He and his wife both know if the mission continues they will be sent back. It makes me ill to think that one day I could be joining those people on the overpass, saying goodbye to a childhood friend, but I am grateful too. Grateful that we have such selfless people in this country, people who continually serve, people who leave their lives; their loves to keep us out of harms way. I am grateful that I live in a province that can take time out of their busy lives to give a moment of thanks for their sacrifice. Grateful that I live in a nation that does not shirk away from the most devastating cost of war: the horrible price paid for peace and security.