To mark Remembrance Day, Rev. Capt. Sue Beare writes that she and her colleagues "look for signs of hope."
It is fall in Kabul. The stars are bright in the dome of the sky, and the city lights twinkle in the distance. I gaze at these lights from the steps of the Pastor’s Offices tent inside the compound known as Camp Julien. I am currently deployed with Canadian Forces personnel in Southwest Asia. There are five chaplains in theatre, but the people know us simply as The Padres. We have been asked by our religious bodies to bring comfort to those military and civilian personnel who serve the Canadian Forces. We do so by being present with them in all areas of their work, and so we deploy with the troops across the world.
This is not a new concept. Our Canadian churches, synagogues, and now mosques have sent their representatives to be with sailors, soldiers, and airmen and women since the Boer War. It is still an honour for us to accompany these women and men in their journeys through life. Their families and friends also depend on us to support them in strenuous situations, and we come to them day or night to meet them in their need.
We live in a world that is broken by natural disaster, and is more often broken by humanity’s failure to practise peace. Our parents have seen many wars, and now they watch us as we cope with the terrorism of our day. The tragedy of conflict affects us all whether it is in the home, civil war, or in the global war against terrorism. We are a deeply divided family in this global village that is wont to vengeance rather than reconciliation.
Chaplains are witness to these conflicts. We know the extraordinary lengths that our Forces personnel go to in order to stop violence against the vulnerable. We listen to the souls who have had to inflict pain and loss at the behest of our government, in order to bring about the possibility of peace. We have prayed with the wounded and stood beside the caskets of those who die in the process of making a space for peace to come. It is out of love for these people that we watch with them.
It is not all pain here. Rather, we look for signs of hope. While we acknowledge the sacrifices and loss of those who have fought and died before us, we also look for their legacy of the possibility of peace. We hear of their bravery and read their stories of the moments in which they found hope in the midst of conflict. It is no different for today’s serving members as they try to find meaning in their experiences of this war.
Bill Dalke, a chief warrant officer serving in Southwest Asia, has had an opportunity to work in this location. He wrote me recently with a summary of his thoughts about his time here:
“You are right about that place being a beautiful country. It is. Those people have come a long way in terms of freedom as well. The last time I went there it was on a Friday, and I remember traveling through the city, and seeing kites in the air all over the place. It was very moving to me. Friday, of course, was their weekend and the kids were not in school, and so were out playing. It was a beautiful day, and I’ll bet that you couldn’t stand anywhere in Kabul without seeing a kite in the air somewhere. Why was this significant for me? Because children were not permitted to fly kites during the Taliban years. Seeing them in groups, smiling and laughing as they simply enjoyed playing and being kids, was quite moving for me. To me, that made all of what we’re doing here worthwhile. If what I’m doing here is of assistance to allowing things like that, it justifies the commitment of my time, and the time that I’m taking away from my own family.”
The reflections of men and women who serve across the world change them and change us in our perception of who our neighbour is. They speak of their experiences through all of humanity’s conflicts, and we are able to rethink who is “friend” and who is “enemy.” It is our faithful obligation to remember those who have gone before us, and to speak of their hopes and dreams for all of humanity. We will not forget. We have caught the torch, and we forge ever onward, looking to create sunny days where children may fly kites in freedom.
Rev. Capt. Sue Beare is an Anglican priest and military chaplain stationed at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta.