It was a rough start to the morning. Nowhere near enough sleep, comedy of errors resulting in no chance to eat breakfast, then the painful sound of the bus roaring away as I’m pulling on my shoes. My commute is pretty evenly split between bus days and car days these days but today is most certainly a bus day.
A few quiet curses so as not to wake anyone and I’m out the door to wait for the next bus. Trying desperately to untangle my earbuds so I can listen to some suitably angry music, my seething anger is interrupted by a friendly hello.
It’s one my neighbours. One of the ones I see on a semi-regular basis while I’m out walking the dog, exchange a wave or a friendly hello with, but not one of the ones I’ve ever really had a conversation with. A soldier, judging by the fatiques he wears, though this morning, speaking to him up close, I learn that he’s a military surgeon.
I’d like to pretend that I warmly welcomed this unexpected reprieve from my shitty morning but, in reality, my decision to engage in deeper conversation was based more on the severely tangled earbuds in my hand and my desire not to be a total prick to a man in uniform.
Still, engage in conversation we did. It started with fairly standard fare: how long we’d been in the neighbourhood, what his kids are doing these days, how great it is for me to have a new baby. As we boarded the bus our conversation moved along to places we’ve lived and the transient life of most servicemen and women. Mostly wondering if he’d been stuck in some remote corner of the country (Hey Sue! What’s up, Dan?), I asked if he’d been in any far-flung locales as part of his service.
“Well, I’m just back from my second tour in Afghanistan.”
At this point, I should say that, generally speaking, I’m a broad-strokes pacifist. I’d really rather not live in a world in which armies and soldiers and people shooting at each other were a necessary fact of life. That being said, though, I’m generally of the opinion that – if armies and soldiers and people shooting at each other ARE a necessary fact of life – I’m pretty glad that the Canadian Forces are out there doing it. Call it blissful ignorance, call it patriotic naivete, but I tend to think that Canadian servicemen and women do the job well, with an underlying sense of respect for human life and human rights.
So when my neighbour casually mentioned that he’d been in the single deadliest war zone for Canadians since the Korean War, I thought it only fair to mention the deep respect and gratitude I felt to the likes of him. He seemed almost embarrassed, graciously thanked me, then proceeded to speak at length about how lucky he felt to be Canadian and how much pride he had in our country.
Later, when discussing the life of a field surgeon (again, in the single deadliest war zone for Canadians in more than 50 years), he largely downplayed his role, saying the real praise goes to the guys outside the wire who do the first aid and careful extraction needed to get the wounded back to base in the first place.
I know I tend to be verbose so I’m going to ahead and recap that quickly, in case you’re skimming:
A man who has saved lives in a war zone deflected all praise and gratitude, choosing instead to praise his country and the people he serves with.
I work largely in social media. The people I share an industry with go by ego-massaging titles like “rock star,” “guru,” and “expert.” My compatriots speak at length about personal brand. They think so highly of their work and their thousands of followers that they seek every opportunity to broadcast in any new medium that comes up. People in my field have iPhone apps built for the sole purpose of distributing their work. They speak at $2,000 per head conferences. They write books.
All my neighbour does is stitch up wounded soldiers while suicide bombs explode outside the gates of the base.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge the leading minds in the social media sphere. A man’s gotta eat. They’re using the skills they have to earn a living and isn’t that really what we’re all trying to do?
But my god, if my neighbour – a genuine fucking hero in my eyes – can deflect the praise that’s sprinkled on him by a surly, coffee-deprived white collar consultant during a dreary morning commute, I think we can all try to find just a little more time for humility in our day.