Things, stuff, and other items of interest

August 17, 2010

Fortissimo, the Canadian Forces, and a little perspective.

 This past weekend, I had opportunity to bear witness to a spectacle of military precision, and remarkable talent. It's had something of a lasting impact, and it's given me a bit of perspective that I think I had misplaced. Over the span of three days, I hung out on Parliament Hill in the evenings watching as the Canadian Ceremonial Guard, Army, Navy, and Air Force, along with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the United States Marine Corp put on a show of music, marching precision, and entertainment the likes of which I've never seen before. It was called Fortissimo, and it was magnificent.

I went three nights in a row, mainly in the interest of trying to snap some decent pics but also because quite honestly, it was really impressive. As I watch the performance for the second and third time, it started to dawn on me just how much time must have gone into practicing these maneuvers. The effort and the work that went into each different segment of the hour and a half long show must have been staggering. Then it occurred to me the surrealistic nature of the juxtaposition between the marching bands, and the war that's going on in Afghanistan. What an odd combination of skill sets in this spectrum of military services. I think I may have sorted part of it out. Thanks in a large part to a fella I met down on the Hill during the performance.

Corporal Pete Gray had the unenviable task of dealing with the members of the public who felt they should have been sitting in the portion of the lawn that was reserved for family and friends of Canadian Forces members, Veterans, foreign state dignitaries, and so forth. He was doing this all while wearing his dress uniform in what was an extremely warm and humid evening. I was standing a few feet away from Corporal Gray and bore witness to his infinite patience and tact as he deftly out maneuvered some of the appallingly bad attempts by people to weasel their way over the rope. He never cracked, he wasn't rude or abrupt, and he gave each person the attention they so obviously felt they were owed. During a brief interlude in the onslaught he was enduring, I intruded on his momentary peace and made a point of mentioning that his patience was admirable. To his credit, he didn't respond with a vitriolic complaint that I'm certain I would have let fly had I been in his place. Just the opposite, he seemed delighted that there was an abundance of interest. Over the next few minutes before the show got started, we discussed different aspects of the performance, the composition of the different factions of the Canadian Forces present, and he let loose morsels of insight into the maneuvers and those performing them that I wouldn't have understood or realized had he not explained them. He did all of this while continuing to fend off members of the public that either presumptuously ducked under the rope, or willfully ignored the very clearly marked off areas for public seating.

In short, Corporal Gray turned a fantastic show into a once in a life time spectacle for me just by allowing me to join him in his enthusiasm and appreciation. As I've reflected on the events of the weekend over the last couple of days I've made something of a realization in terms of that odd juxtaposition I mentioned earlier. I had somewhat typically misunderstood the point of the entire affair. I had arrogantly assumed that this spectacle was for our (the viewing publics') benefit, that it was to serve as some sort of glorified pep rally, stir up national pride and so forth. Maybe it was, but that was it's secondary or tertiary benefit at best. No, I think it's primary role had nothing to do with us. I think it had everything to do with the men and women marching. It was a pep rally of sorts, but not for us, for them. And deservedly so.

I know I get moody and whiny after a few days working on a project that I don't think is going to spec. Imagine working on one for eight years, with mixed results, and watching one hundred and fifty-one of your coworkers die in the process. Imagine doing that while the future of the project that you care deeply for and are very much invested in, is debated and mis-managed by people who don't fully understand it and are more interested in protecting their own job security than they are in the out come of said project. Imagine that your project has the potential to help hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands, even millions of people. To improve their way of life so significantly that you are willing to risk your own to accomplish this goal. It is very literally a matter of life and death, and you are required to perform under an umbrella of uncertainty and stress for eight long years. All the while, maintaining little to no hope of that situation changing because the nature of your project depends on its' popularity with a cynical public that has grown tired of it while never really grasping it's true significance. I don't know about you, but I don't think I could handle it.

So it's with the clarity of hindsight that I'd like to pass along my thanks to the men and women of the Canadian Forces that paid me the honour of letting me join their celebration. I enjoyed every minute of it. We probably don't say it enough, but we appreciate the work you're doing, and we are fiercely proud of you. Thank you, truly and sincerely.

Here's some pics of the show for those of you who may have missed it:

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To see all of the pics, check out the set on flickr.