Last week was traumatic for Canada. When one soldier was killed in a deliberate hit-and-run in Quebec, I didn’t comprehend it was part of a terrorist attack. When two soldiers were shot at from behind while they held their ceremonial post at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we were stunned. When the same gunman ran into our Parliament Building, and the entire downtown core was locked down, our relative sense of security unsettled. This was a tragic week.
I live in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. I love it here–it’s quite small and far less cosmopolitan than Montreal and Toronto–both of which are an easy drive away. We visit those busy cities often, but we return home to our quieter life in Ottawa.
I used to work in the downtown core, and I often walk beside the National War Memorial. I am particularly fond of the Tomb, because it reminds me of my grandmother. One Remembrance Day when I was young, I interrupted her while she watched the national ceremony on television. It was rare for her to snap at me, but on that day, she did.
“You need to remember, Crystal. None of this was free. People died for you to have this life.”
She said it with such intensity. I remember watching the rest of the service with her. Now, every single time I walk on the plaza in front of the Tomb and the Memorial where that service was held, I say a silent “Thank You,” to my grandmother and to the soldiers. I live a blessed life. It is not free.
Of course, the media was all about the shooting and I appreciated the cautious nature of the reporting. It was clear what was fact and what was conjecture–no small feat in an age when the first tweet is considered truth. Even so, I needed and took media breaks. This is my city, these are my people. I was, and continue to be affected by this event.
Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who died in the hit and run, and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, the soldier who died at the Memorial, have become the faces of our military. One was nearing the end of his career, the other just beginning. We grieve for their families and their friends, for their fellow soldiers and their units. They were murdered, simply for wearing a military uniform.
Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers has similarly become the face of our leadership. After killing Corporal Cirillo, the gunman ran into our Parliament, where the country’s leaders were preparing to meet. It’s important to add that he was immediately followed in by the RCMP on duty there, that he was delayed by security staff inside, that people reacted quickly and appropriately. Still, he threatened our country, and Kevin Vickers is the man credited with stopping him.
The next day, he led the ceremonial march back to Parliament to an extended standing ovation. I don’t know Mr. Vickers and I can’t be sure if my impressions are correct, but as I watched that moment, I had this thought:
We are hard on our heroes.
The moment was important. In times of crisis, people take comfort in leadership. We need proof that everything remains the same even when our hearts are certain some things will never be. We cling to the familiar because sometimes, the unfamiliar is the bigger threat to our sense of security.
Right then, my only thought was how difficult the extended applause may have been for Mr. Vickers. For the sake of his country and our need to be assured, he walked by the place where just 30 hours earlier, he had shot and killed someone–unfamiliar territory in spite of 29 years on the police force. He heard the bullets. He saw the scars they left behind. He felt the scars we cannot see.
Someone died, and he was being cheered with much enthusiasm. I’m not sure he was feeling like a hero just then, though he was gracious and stoic. He credited his security team, and it’s clear they all helped. I’d watched earlier footage of his brother talking about Mr. Vickers, and the brother teared up. This was traumatic for our country–and, I realized so much more for him and his family.
Still. As a country, we needed to put a face on our defenders. We needed him, and he delivered.
Now that moment has passed. I hope Mr. Vickers is well cared for. So many of our soldiers (uniformed or not) deal with post-traumatic stress. It’s difficult for us to comprehend the depth of that, of how long it may take to heal, if in fact they ever do.
We must not forget this. It’s more than just a tragic day for Mr. Vickers and others like him. It could affect every aspect of his life. As we grieve the fresh scars on our country, we must remember them as well. They demonstrated leadership and courage during a time when we desperately needed both.
When I walk by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier now I will remember Mr. Vicker’s face. I will remember Warrant Officer Vincent and Corporal Cirillo. I will remember to thank everyone who was there that day–those who ran forward to help, those who ran toward to defend.
Heroes, every one. Thank you. May you be cared for in the ways you need now. It’s our turn to stand up for you.