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Learning Life's Lessons at the Feet of Fallen Soldiers
Young Canadians have again died fighting a war in a far country. They knew it could happen, yet they went. Their courage is astounding.

I cannot easily make the connection. Their ages are comparable—20, 21, 24. But that's where the similarities, if I look on the surface, end.

… there is a similarity between young people who remain here in Canada and those who have chosen to leave.

They dress in T-shirts and jeans over here. Over there, in camouflage pants and combat boots. Over here, their hair, held back in pony tails or curling around their ears, is scraggly most days. Over there, the military buzz cut never lets a hair fall out of place.

Over here, young people are worried about boyfriends, exams, final term papers, summer jobs and student loans. Over there, well, where does one begin to list what might keep a 21-year-old awake at night?

I can only imagine it would be these things: intense loneliness for family; hidden bombs; a best friend's death. And perhaps this one, which must be banished if sleep is ever to come: the possibility that this war won't be won. That peace won't prevail. That the world won't be a better place, even though people are dying to make that happen.

As I write this column, I, like so many other Canadians, are coming to grips with the deaths of eight soldiers in Afghanistan in one week. Every soldier's death—and there have been 53—triggers in me the sense of detached grief one feels about a stranger's death. But this week, the detachment has become attachment. I cannot get these Canadian soldiers out of my mind. I am constantly imagining the terrain of Afghanistan, picturing what life—and death—must be like for our troops.

Perhaps it is the weight of the number. The idea that so many have died in such a short time has lodged like a bullet in my brain. Perhaps it is the fact they were mostly from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. I don't know any of them personally, but I know the lay of the land they called home.

I think, mostly, though, the bullet has penetrated a little more deeply this time because of their ages. Sgt. Donald Burgess was 31. Cpl. Aaron Williams, 23; Pte. Kevin Kennedy, 20; Pte. David Greenslade, 20; Cpl. Christopher Stannix, 24; Cpl. Brent Poland, 37; Master Cpl. Allan Stewart, 30; Trooper Patrick Pentland, 23.

Five of the men who died were still in their early 20s. And while this registered with me as I heard of their deaths, it was actually the voice of a living soldier that caused me to consider just how incredible it is that men and women so young should be so willing to take the weight of a broken world onto their shoulders.

"I feel quite bad, but my job being what it is, it would be an even greater tragedy for me to lose control and not be able to do my job. Now we have to focus on being a team, looking after each other, taking care of one another." Those words were spoken in a newspaper interview by Lt. Ben Rogerson, the commander of the troop that lost so many young men this week. He is just 23 years old.

Lt. Rogerson's words make the connection for me. They help me realize there is a similarity between young people who remain here in Canada and those who have chosen to leave.

Young people, regardless of where they live, have not yet settled into the comforts of safe routine. They're still searching for meaning, for purpose, for where life will take them. Their decisions are often underscored by willingness to risk, a sense of invincibility, a determined stubbornness that they can make a difference in this world.

I'm well past my 20s and so I can say from experience that these are not generally the characteristics of older generations. It's not that we can't muster up the risk and courage it takes to try and change the world. It's just that we usually don't. There are too many other things that demand our attention.

Eight young Canadians died fighting a war in a small country on the other side of the world. These young men—and their families—knew this might be the outcome. They knew they could die. And yet they went, they signed up for military service and headed to Afghanistan, where life is nothing like it is back here in Canada.

Their courage astounds me. Their lives speak to me about bravery and risk-taking. Their deaths remind me that there are people who are willing to die for the sake of a better world. And these people? They are young.

Lynda MacGibbon is a writer based in Riverview New Brunswick and the NB/PEI Director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. She can be reached at

Originally published in Moncton Times & Transcipt, Moncton, NB, April 14, 2007, and simultaneously on




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