When I was a kid, we watched M*A*S*H on CityTV at 7:30. It felt like we watched it every day, but maybe not. I know it was 7:30 because when the City TV movie opening credits started at 8, it was my bedtime. I was young enough that the adult jokes and a bunch of the satire went completely over my head, but some moments stuck with me. One such was the episode where the armistice is declared, but episode ends with the 4077th still in the operating room and artillery still sounding in the distance.
Sometimes, the finish line isn’t the finish line.
This week, that surfaced for me because we’re US Election Day +1 (well, +2 now because this didn’t get posted yesterday), and the election isn’t done yet. But when I thought about how to wrap that into a reflection, something else surfaced pretty quickly.
I was looking recently at the winners of the Royal Canadian Legion literary and poster contest. The first place winner from the Senior Poster Contest is a very moving image titled “Not all wounds are visible”. When many members of the Canadian Armed Forces (or, really, any country’s military) are finished their tour, or their enlistment contract, they aren’t done. The finish line isn’t the finish line.
Few who serve in the military are completely untouched by some kind of psychological trauma. Just because they came home from their tour of duty, doesn’t mean they’re finished their internal struggle with what they saw or did or felt. They don’t reach the finish line just because their tour is over or they get on a plane and head back to Canada. Even if they didn’t see battle doesn’t mean that there isn’t loss to be mourned or stress that they can’t wrestle to the ground. There is a crisis of mental health in the military – in wartime and in peacetime. There is a Veterans Affairs Canada study that found that over a 39 year period ending in 2014, based on the military records of 230,000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel, the risk of suicide for members of the CAF is consistently higher than the general population. Male veterans have almost 1.5 times higher risk of dying by suicide compared to the general male population. For women, it’s even higher -almost twice as high. That’s terrifying.
I’m not going to get on a soapbox here and talk about what Must! Be! Done! But when we pay tribute to those who have served, we’d best remember that for some; perhaps for most, the finish line isn’t the finish line.
If you know someone who needs help, please help them find what they need. Contact your local Military Family Resource Center if you don’t know where to start.
Winners 2020: Poster and Literary Contests
Two years ago: Remembrance Project – Day 10: The Zone Rouge