Couch Potato Patriotism
This morning, I got the letter that I feared receiving.
So did a bunch of my friends.
I took a big deep breath full of uncertainty. It wasn’t long ago that the group of us had been out playing soccer together. We didn't have a worry in the world, but we always knew that this day might come. And here it was -- we were all being called upon to serve our country.
The only time I'd ever fired a gun was out skeet shooting last summer on my buddies farm, and quite frankly I missed most shots I took. I tend to get blisters on my heels when wearing boots that I haven’t broken in yet. It can be very annoying and painful. Basically, I know I'm a big softy - certainly not the type that's cut out to be a soldier. And while me and my friends try to make light of the whole situation, I’m definitely scared out of my mind.
Everything had happened so quickly. My wife had helped me pack my things knowing full well I'm the type of guy that needs his creature comforts. We had a tearful goodbye, but I tried to stand up straight and be strong in the face of nothing but uncertainty. A week or so later my friends and I found ourselves in Newfoundland, ready to board a vessel for the United Kingdom. Me and two of my friends, Matt and Ryan, boarded and set sail, while our other friend Logan was left behind for some reason. It turns out his background in electrical engineering seemed to make him better suited for other work. We waved at him from the edge of the stern. None of us knew that it would be the last time we'd ever see him, or the shore of Canada for that matter.
It was early June and I’d never been on a boat. Rocking side to side on this thing made me vomit multiple times. I was hopeful that it would be my only experience on a boat of any kind. The date was May 25th, 1944.
I had heard things about the war, but then again how couldn’t you. Things had been going on for years now. I’d heard of a few guys from grade school that had gone to fight in it and had no idea where they were now. My wife had asked when I thought I might be returning -- how could anyone know? A few days of uncertainty had passed and our commanding officer, a gangly British fellow from Lancashire gave us the lowdown on what would be transpiring in the coming week.
The details were sketchy at best, but the operation seemed to be called Operation Overlord? We were ‘Force J’ - whatever that meant. We were going to be taking a boat across the English Channel. Ugh another boat. What's worse is the journey was 100 miles and we’re doing it at night. Gross.
We’d be landing on a beach in northern France called ‘Juno’. Word was going around that all told, there are 160,000 of us going.
I figured I would write a short letter to my wife prior to the departure. I wish I could give her more details. We have no idea how long this whole thing is going to take. No idea what’s on the other side really, but apparently I’ve got to be a soldier now and should expect ‘heavy gunfire’. Nobody around seems to know whether or not this will work. We are going to have air support prior to getting there which should help, as long as it isn’t cloudy. If we even survive I wonder if we’ll be back by Christmas? Seems reasonable to think we’ll be back by Christmas - I mean jesus that’s like 6 months from now.
I turned to my friend Ryan as we grabbed all our supplies and boarded this dingy boat called an LCI(L) 299 -- “This things a real piece of shit eh?” I said to him. He shrugged at me, “Gotta do what yah gotta do I guess.” He’s always had a demeanour about him that just focuses on the task at hand.
It was that moment, sloshing around in the dark, sea sick, where the panic really set in. I thought of all the wonderful things back home that I'll never again get to experience. Somehow, this battle is necessary for me - and a bunch of other dumb guys from Vancouver BC to take part of? How'd we get dragged into this?
Jesus, what if I survive? I have no idea what I’m doing - and if I survive - what happens after that? Like will there be a makeshift bed setup or something like that? Perhaps a way to contact those at home and update them? I wonder. I suppose if we push them back enough the fighting will be less intense? How do I reload this gun again? It was around then that my friend Matt put his hand on my arm, and looked at me as if to say, "At least we're in this together." At least if we know that if we win, that'll be that. It's not like there's any sort of completely horrendous human atrocity that we'll stumble upon at the end of this whole experience if I happen to live long enough to see the end of it. Right?
This brief story could have been reality for anyone asked to fulfill their duty to their country back in 1944.
Instead, a couple weeks ago, the Prime Minister of Canada asked me to fulfill my civic duty by staying home.
I’m still allowed to go get food. Actually if I want, I can probably order almost any of my favourite foods and someone will deliver them to my doorstep.
Come to think of it, I can get beer too. And not just any kind of beer. I can try a whole bunch of different new beers, and if I want, put tiny amounts of each in little cups and pretend they’re flights.
I can sit on my patio in the sunshine. I have way more good television available to me than I could possibly watch. I have access to any book on the planet. I can easily phone anybody I want. I can even talk to them face to face, using my phone or laptop.
Hell, I can even decide to go outside and run up and down my block staying safely away from people and actually work on my overall health. Though I still do get blisters, and am still soft, so I probably won’t do that. But I could ride my bike to the park, and juggle a soccer ball by myself, or lay in the grass and just - be. So take a moment and be grateful today. Do everybody a favour and, if you like, plant your ass on the couch to watch the original Jurassic Park in your sweatpants while eating a frozen pizza at 1:30 in the afternoon, then proceed to have a couple beers while playing online poker while planning that tomorrow, you'll try and master FIFA 20.
You'll be fulfilling your civic duty.
Be grateful for the fact that our ‘unprecedented time’ comes with unprecedented comfort.