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A March Observed

This week, my friend Susan was in Quebec City, staying in a five star hotel with a spectacular view over the Old City and the St. Lawrence River. She was there with her little grandson Mikey--and her husband, Ron, who was attending the annual meeting of Canada Land Surveyors.

On Friday evening, there was a ceremony and parade to mark the departure of some 2,000 soldiers of the Vandoos in August. Thousands of well wishers were reported in the Globe and Mail to have lined the parade route, but there was also a swarm of protesters that met them at the end of the parade route, shouting anti-war slogans and urging the soldiers to desert.

Susan was an eye witness to the parade from her 10th floor hotel room and emailed me some thoughts, which she gave me her permission to post on the blog.
Friday, June 22nd 2007

From Susan Stewart

There is supposed to be a parade at 8:30 this evening in Quebec City of some 2000 soldiers who are about to be deployed to Afghanistan in two weeks time. There is also supposed to be an anti-war demonstration and the police are beefing up security in fear of some violence. I would LOVE to go out there and support our troops and wish them well and tell them we'll be praying for them back here at home. But not with Mikey here in Quebec City with us.

It was a strange feeling today to see a lot of these soldiers here and there about town and realizing they could be some of the ones on the news in the coming months that don't make it back home again.

There was one soldier in the Subway when Mikey and I were in there. I intended to go up to him to tell him we would be praying for them while they were over there and to thank him for what he was doing for the Afghanistan people (especially the women) but he had left the restaurant by the time I had finished paying for our order. Well, if I see any tomorrow and if they understand English, that's what I'm going to do.

That parade I told you about? Well, it went right past our hotel--right under our window.

I was sitting on the couch tap-tapping away on my laptop when I heard the muffled, but unmistakable sound of military drumming. I jumped up as quickly as I could, calling Mikey and Ron in the next room to go to their windows too.

Below us, marching down La Grande Allee, was a full military band in bright red uniforms and tall bearskin hats. They marched to the drumming holding their instruments poised and ready. Just past us, they raised them and began to play a stirring march.

Behind them, row, upon row, upon row of young khaki-clad soldiers followed in almost perfect formation. (It wasn't quite like the movies. There was the odd fellow out of step and the odd line not quite straight. Ron estimated that there were over two thousand of them in platoons of 120 (six across and 20 deep).

The route was lined with civilians who, thank God, were cheering and clapping and letting them know that they are supported. I wished I'd been down there. Oh, how I wished I'd known when they were going by so I could have cheered and clapped, too. The long green line was followed up by yet another military band in red uniforms. It was stirring, even from 10 floors above.

It was hard to understand all the emotions running through me... I was thinking all of the following thoughts:

1. I wondered if some of those young men who would be leaving for Afghanistan in two weeks, might return in boxes and be all over the news, like the three who died there last week.

2. I thought about my dad, and yours, and how they would have marched through the streets like that.

3. I thought about how I hate war, but at the same time I'm grateful for the freedom that the war has brought to some of the people in Afghanistan, especially the women.

4. I thought about my four sons and breathed a prayer of gratitude that none of them were in that parade. I wondered how I would feel if one of them had been in those ranks.

5. I wondered if what we are doing as a nation is right. I wondered what God thought of it all and breathed a prayer for their safe return and that they would be "good soldiers" over there, representing our country well and afraid that they might not be.

6. I felt proud. I don't know why exactly, but it made me feel proud to be a part of them and a part of this great land.

7. I felt a little afraid. It made "war" feel awfully close to home...

Susan's thoughts made me think of one of my heroes. Known as 'Woodbine Willie,' his name was George Studdert Kennedy--and he volunteered as a padre in World War 1. He was nicknamed 'Woodbine Willie' for giving Woodbine Cigarettes along with spiritual aid to injured and dying soldiers.

He was converted to Christian socialism and pacifism during the war but earned the Military Cross for "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty" during the attack on Messines Ridge.

Dear Lord, we pray for your protection over these men and boys who could be our sons, brothers and fathers. We pray that you will surround them with your angels and bring them home safely. May they bring peace and not bloodshed to the land of Afghanistan. May your Holy Spirit prompt us to pray for them often.
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