Away from the spotlight of praise

Caring when nobody notices but the kid cared for.

I almost missed it. My daughter and I were up in the bleachers watching her son at a house league hockey practice. The six-year-olds were skating, falling, trying to stickhandle and the arena was bursting with noise. Then I spotted this one boy standing way off to the side, crying, wanting off the ice. One of the volunteer coaches skated over to him, got down on his knees and quickly connected with the boy in conversation.

The boy stopped crying. The coach’s face looked very encouraging and before long the boy was over the trauma and re-joined the practice. Nobody seemed to notice the exchange. It was low key, calming, but clearly motivational. And I thought of that quote by that U.S. national basketball coach from the 1970s.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is looking,” John Wooden once said.

A soldier’s voice

Tim Isberg. Visualz photo, Isberg website.

He was supposedly the warm-up act. He was Tim Isberg, a singer-songwriter from Fort Macleod, Alberta. And I was supposedly the main event, offering a talk about veterans’ stories, and how I came by them. But, as I sat there waiting for Isberg to finish his set, I was mulling over a problem in my head. I wasn’t quite sure where to start my presentation. Suddenly, I paid attention to what Isberg was singing.

“Listen to the voice,” he sang in a calming sort of way. “Listen to the voice calling me … calling you.”

The salve of understanding

Joe Tilley hold photo of his son Spencer during his time in Canadian Forces.
Joe Tilley hold photo of his son Spencer during his time in Canadian Forces.

Joe Tilley recalled the day his son died. He recounted the scene in front of an audience that knew the story. He described the day two years ago, when his wife answered a heavy knock at the front door. The fact that a police officer was knocking didn’t surprise Penny-Claire Tilley. Their son, Spencer, had had several run-ins with the law. But this police visit seemed different.

“You’re here to tell me my son’s dead, aren’t you,” Penny-Claire Tilley said.

“Yes,” the officer said solemnly.

Monumental trauma

Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer, left, and Minister of Veterans Affairs Erin O'Toole unveil Sam in relief.
Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer, left, and Minister of Veterans Affairs Erin O’Toole unveil Sam in relief.

Sam helped Tyler make it through. But when he needed the same kind of assistance – nearly 100 years ago – there was no one there to help Sam through. Tyler Briley, from Port Perry, was in Ottawa last Thursday. The minister of veterans affairs was unveiling Briley’s latest creation, a wax sculpture of Sam Sharpe.

“It’s been a form of therapy,” he said. “I’ve just gotten well in the last year, in part, because of my work on this.”

No life like it

Canadian troops in Afghanistan had to deal with the climate, the combat and the loss. Photo by Stefano Rellandini.

I had a chance encounter with a member of the Wounded Warriors the other night. I had just completed a presentation about the battle at Vimy Ridge at the Whitby Public Library. On our way out of the library, he gave me an update on plans the group has to take about 30 younger Canadian vets on a bicycle tour of Normandy later this spring. (By the way, they’re doing it entirely on private donations. No government funding.) He recounted a recent exchange between his group and a Veterans Affairs Canada committee reviewing the needs Canada’s latest vets – those returning from Afghanistan. He was encouraging greater support for vets with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Give them time,” the VAC rep apparently said. “They’ll get over it.”