Life lessons learned at the ACC
I’ve been to the Air Canada Centre (ACC) in Toronto for a lot of different events – concerts, sports games, the usual. So when a friend told me that she had a couple of extra tickets to the closing ceremonies for the Invictus Games, did my husband and I want to go with her, I figured sure, why not? I’d never seen either Bruce Springsteen or Bryan Adams in concert before – this was practically a free two-fer! I looked forward to the evening much the same way I always look forward to a night out with friends. Good times, good music, good people…I didn’t expect Saturday to be any different.
I certainly didn’t expect it to be somewhat life-changing.
I think I started to realize that this wasn’t going to be a normal party when, at a quarter past seven, the announcer told us that the athletes were each going to receive medals for their participation in the Games. Aw, how nice, I thought. Until they mentioned it was Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden presenting the medals. That made things a bit fancy. Hm.
Then the athletes started coming forward. I watched as 550 people from 17 different countries claimed their medals, sporting prosthetics the likes of which I had never seen. Wheelchairs that could likely outpace most cars. They also sported pride. Oh, the pride.
As the competitors took their medals and made their way down a long, black, shiny ramp to get to their floor seats, the crowd, which was still coming in for the 8 p.m. start, serenely watched them. Cheers rose up every now and again from supporters and teammates, but for the most part, it was a rather quiet, reverent murmur bringing in the evening. Which made my brain start to think. Which is never a good thing.
Every Remembrance Day, I struggle. Every time I see a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker, I struggle. Every time I hear what I considered to be the trite phrases of “they sacrificed themselves for us” or “fought for the freedoms we enjoy,” I struggle. I have never wanted to just say the words, I have always wanted to apply them, have them mean something. And they have never meant to me the same grand things they have seemingly meant to others. I’ve always felt a little guilty about that. To me, those who have served in the military – both the distant and recent past, and even today – have done so willingly. It was/is a job to them, a job that they chose to do. To me it’s never been much different than one who chooses to become a police officer, or a firefighter. They are all high-risk jobs that these individuals have chosen to do. Yes, they deserve our honour and respect. Yes, we should not forget them. But why, why the elevated status and the hero worship, all after the fact?
Now, before you go writing letters to the editor, understand that this doesn’t mean that I in any way thought less of the job these people had/have chosen to do. They have done, or do, jobs that most of us wouldn’t, or couldn’t. They’ve left their families and had their limbs blown off so that I get to live a very cushy life and publish a newspaper that can, essentially, say what it wants. I get it, I really do. So why do I struggle with honouring, remembering, thanking?
On Saturday, after the last athlete had taken his seat, I sat there and just stared at the various people on the floor. The amount of collective pain, suffering, emotional distress and trauma that was in that relatively small space was too much to comprehend. Yet there it was in front of me. And the joy, the love, the camaraderie, the exaltation that those athletes felt was palpable throughout the entire ACC. There couldn’t have been a single person in that arena that didn’t realize what incredible-ness there was all tucked into that building.
We watched videos of highlights from the week’s events on the giant screens. We watched as some individuals received special accolades for their own personal journeys. I felt so thrilled for each one of them, so humbled by their stories, and I began to understand a tiny bit of what these people had gone through, and why they were being lauded the way they were. They’d taken on a crappy, dangerous job that no one else had wanted to do, and because of the stupidity of humankind as a whole, suffered as a consequence. Suffered physically, suffered mentally – both actually, because neither are mutually exclusive. Because of our – read humankind – apparent unwillingness to learn from mistakes and horrors of the past, these individuals took/take it upon themselves to continue to try and right the wrongs that crop up all over the globe. They may have chosen their job, but they didn’t choose to get damaged. If we can’t smarten ourselves up, the least we can do is try to apologize for the mess we made of them.
Those closing ceremonies were a party like no other – Bruce and Bryan sang a couple of duets, oh bliss, and my struggle – I left it at the ACC. I brought home pride and hope.