I remember … my community

Published November 1, 2004

In the early morning hours of Nov. 11, 2003, my eyes opened to the sight of the room I had lived in for the past four months. I had awakened in a small Canadian Forces Camp in the Arabian Gulf and to another day of serving as an Anglican chaplain to the men and women of our support base to Afghanistan.

Life in an overseas camp tends to be like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, punctuated by things like Sunday services and the Commanding Officer’s weekly brief. Each day starts out with the same weather (i.e. “Today will be very hot and very sunny”), the same clothes, the same food and the same relentless pace. This day, however, was different. This day we would take time to gather as a group of coalition forces and we would remember.

In our little camp, our gatherings happened outside, late in the day when the midday heat began to subside. We planned our Remembrance Day service to be a sunset ceremony and, late that afternoon, we left our desks, our workshops and our aircraft and began to gather in formation near the central flagpoles. As the sun began to touch the horizon, we stood as a group and listened to stories of Canadian, Australian and New Zealander heroism in the world wars. We stood and watched as the flags of our countries were lowered to half-mast during the period of silence. In this little camp where so much of our time was spent living in the present, we spent time to remember the past.

I also remembered my past on this day. When I was deployed to the Gulf as the camp chaplain, I had only finished basic training six months before and I had not expected to be deployed so soon. The experience of strength I repeatedly turned to was one that surprised me, that of my experience of being the parish priest in Lytton, B.C., in the former diocese of Cariboo. Although there were some basic challenges that were the same between Camp Mirage and Lytton, such as solitary ministry and lack of anonymity, the strengths that they had in common were ones that sometimes I could only see in retrospect.

On that Remembrance Day, I remembered the day that I arrived in Camp Mirage. I was exhausted, overwhelmed by the oppressive heat and nervous about whether or not I had the resources within me to get through the next six months. Four months later, however, I was able to look around me and know that God’s work was being done. Just as in Lytton, I was able to look around at this group and see the faces of people whom I had helped and those who had helped me. This group of people, brought from bases and wings from across the country, had incredible gifts of resourcefulness, teamwork and generosity. In the fading light of that Remembrance Day, I was able to look around and see not a sea of green uniforms before me but my community.

As that Remembrance Day service came to an end last year, I remembered those things that I hold dear and that give me strength as a priest, a military chaplain and a woman: my grandfathers and their military service, my family, my faith and my community. As we closed our service and began to walk away, it seemed to me that Remembrance Day is not just about remembering battles and wars and lives lost. In addition to remembering all those things, Remembrance Day is about holding dear all those precious parts of life that strengthen you and giving thanks to God.

Rev. Capt. Catherine Morrison is the Chapel Life Co-ordinator and chaplain to five units and squadrons at 8 Wing, Trenton, Ont.


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