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Belonging to a larger story

The cemeteries are now full of heroes,” an Afghan Mujahedin once told me while gazing at an urban area completely obliterated after several days of infighting just after the fall of the communist regime.

It's strange. For me the heroes were not those who had died, but these young combatants in rags, stunned by the fury of war, who survive, who suffer, who wander, in silence and with dignity.

As in all wars, the heroes in cemeteries are what we remember. Those who survive are our present. Let's meet them and better understand their stories.

This is where part of the creative genius of the Monarques adventure rests. In provoking encounters, stimulating reflection, creating links, and gathering words to share them with the world.

Monarques gave me a better understanding of attachment to the institution, to this great equalizing family that is the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and their formidable capacity for social integration. Military life offers a human cohesion that goes far beyond religion, the social status of troops or their command. It is a community within the community, with its rules, its values, its living environment, its history.

The contrast that can exist between the external image we have of the CAF and the reality of the people who are a part of them is striking. As entities the CAF are, in fact, reflections of the rest of our society; often for the best, sometimes for the worst. These men and women; they are you. They are me.

And so I was invited to embark on a new journey of understanding through the gateway of the theatre; to dive head first into these gathered destinies and experiences that are filled with hope, courage and ambition but also sometimes traumas, heartbreaks, and disappointments.

This is where, decades ago, a field of possibilities opened up for a young man who was in search of himself and who needed signposts in his life. The Forces provided him with the opportunity to become someone, to become more than he already was, to channel his energies, to forge a path ahead and, ultimately, to open up the doors of the world.

At first, it was the sports teams he connected with, and the rage for life, the search for strong emotions. Later, it was the group, Valcartier; the big family. I discovered, through the richness of our discussions and our respective backgrounds, that there was a common, fundamental element between us: that of looking for a certain sense of "belonging." This is a belonging to some bigger history, to a family other than one’s own, and to a destiny yet to be shaped. It is the search for connections, for meaning, to feed and satisfy the thirst for life.

Then, in the midst of our conversations, a thought occurred to me: our respective entourages, our families, our friends who often bear witness to our silences, our unknowable moods, our sometimes deep detachments upon returning from missions, are often actually the rock on which that fatigue and weariness can finally find refuge.

Adjutant Luc Lacombe (now Major) shaking hands with an Afghan youth. This photo demonstrates why we fight... for the most vulnerable, but it also comes at a cost in the loss of life of soldiers who have served.

This is the context of the discussions in which I got to know Luc!

From our first meetings I quickly came to know him as a big guy with striking features, piercing eyes, a strong will and impressive integrity.

At first there was a feeling of great strength but then, over the course of the meetings, fragments of fragility started to emerge, those of a man who gave up everything, abandoned everything, seen everything and endured everything for the path he chose.

It was as if strength and fragility were ultimately just two sides of the same coin, or medallion. Not the medals you hang on uniforms, though, but the ones that make up the very essence of who you become.

I learned from being around him that his choices, his aspirations and his dreams were not totally different from mine. His commitment, his journey and his quest for a better world had things in common with my own.

In the end, I remembered once again that the invisible wounds, the hesitation before a planned departure, the need to fill the void after overload, that all of this inevitably forms powerful bonds in all those who have known the unnameable and the unspeakable. To understand this is to come a little closer to our shared humanity.

Thanks Luc, for bringing me back to basics!

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