Surviving the war must be harder than those who have died in combat. The heroes are mostly those that died during the war. I am saying this because of a chance encounter with someone who was willing enough to share his story with me on my commute to work.
The morning commute is always packed. The line of people zigzags all the way inside the Hub station. Sometimes I get lucky when someone gives me a front seat. Front seats are for elderly and mobility challenged passengers. With my silver hair, I could pass as an elder. I accept graciously for not offending the person offering the seat.
I sat perpendicular to two men. The man sitting on the outside, brown skin and clean clothes, covers his nose with his handkerchief. The other sitting by the window is first nation, wearing a baseball cap and ragged outfit looks agitated. The first nation man and I were sitting so close to each other. I could smell alcohol, more of Listerine smell, coming from him.
The first nation man talks to himself a lot. He was saying he can’t breathe and finds the bus stuffy. At the same time, he keeps on saying “I can’t get it out of my head.”
People were looking at him.
With the bus full, it can get stuffy, so I opened the window and asked him if that helps. He quietly nodded and keeps saying “I can’t get it out of my head’ and at the same time he was hitting his head with his fist.
Gently, I touched his hand and asked if I could help. I noticed that his fingernails are clean.
“No one can help me,” he says. He carried on telling how he tried all kinds of help and no one can help him.
The story goes that he was at Gulf War when a bullet hit him when he was driving a tanker. He took off his hat and showed me the mark on his head. The scar is visible on the balding spot. He survived the war, but the incident left a far more profound injury in his mind.
“I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I hope I can help you. What I can do is pray for you, for healing and for peace of mind. Is this okay?” I asked him.
He did not answer me. His head bowed down, hands covering his face, I saw tears falling down.
I didn’t know how to respond to this instead gave him some tissue papers. He accepted them, wiped the tears from his eyes, blew his nose and gently nodded his head. I assumed that he was saying that it was okay for me to say a prayer for him. We remained quiet as I kept my hand on him and keeping a silent prayer in my head. He seemed to have calmed down, and I removed my hand.
While this was happening, people were all eyes and ears to what transpired between the first nation man and me. The brown man no longer covers his nose with his handkerchief. I can only assume that he softened listening to the story.
The story seems so short, but this event took at least 30 minutes of commute.
We both alighted from the same station, said goodbye and he quickly crosses the road to go to work. I never saw him again.
One cannot really tell what goes on someone else’s mind unless one takes the time to find out. It’s easy to dismiss and feign indifference to first nation people when in fact many of them joined the war to serve and protect Canada.
Remember the Aboriginals, they served Canada as well:
Some Cree soldiers in the Canadian forces worked as “code-talkers,” translating military messages into Cree before they were sent over European battlefields. Often these messages contained details about planned attacks, so it was vital that they remained secret from enemy ears.
More than 7,000 First Nations people served in the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean War. With Inuit and Métis people included, one Aboriginal Veterans’ group estimates that more than 12,000 Aboriginal people served in these wars.
Remember the aboriginal veterans, their stories of honor and heroism. Remember them.