Christmas in Kandahar

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The Article

My husband, a pediatrician, attends many deliveries where women scream and holler without any man present to take these abuses. Bringing a baby into the world alone is hardly uncommon these days. On the other side of the demographic divide, he’s getting used to dads bringing in video cameras to record all that screaming and hollering, though why any woman would opt to preserve that particular image of herself for posterity is beyond me.

Increasingly, though, there is a merging in our little hospital of the phenomenon of taping the momentous occasion while women give birth without men. It’s largely because in these cases the men aren’t absent from the women’s lives; they’re just absent from the country. Living and working where we do, next door to the largest air force base in Canada, it’s hard to escape the fact that many thousands of our armed forces are serving in very hostile lands, where people aren’t exactly clamouring to be the first to get in the Christmas spirit.

I often get grumpy when Keith’s on call over Christmas. I don’t like having to delay opening the presents until he gets back from seeing yet another asthmatic child in the Emergency, and somehow my sympathy which should go out to the parents who are stuck in the Emergency Room at Christmas seems to boomerang off my front door and land in my lap, where I pout into my cup of hot chocolate.

If your spouse is a firefighter, or a nurse, or a doctor, or even a waitress, you’re probably used to them being away at rather inopportune times. It’s one thing, though, to be working on an important family day. It’s quite another to be working for a year’s worth of important family days. One friend of mine missed six months of his son’s life last spring; he missed his first word, his first step, even the first time he slept through the night. Another friend of mine is currently missing six months of his three teenagers’ lives. Maybe he won’t miss any firsts, but he might miss some lasts: the last time a child deigns to cuddle up in a parent’s lap; the last time you’re actually able to offer any meaningful help with math homework; the last time you’re all around in an evening together to play Monopoly.  Perhaps missing the lasts is just as hard as missing the firsts.

The other night my husband came home in a melancholy mood to tell me about yet another woman giving birth just after her husband was sent to Afghanistan. And it made me think once more about what life must be like for them, missing these crucial moments, and still trying to maintain some semblance of their Canadian life over there. How does one celebrate Christmas when all the trappings of Christmas are absent? It’s hard to imagine walking anywhere this time of year without seeing lights and hearing “Joy to the World”. To be somewhere where the only lights you see are of hostile gunfire brings quite a new meaning to “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, doesn’t it?

And yet, as I think about it, perhaps these troops of ours are doing something rather appropriate for this Christmas season. All over the world, they are fighting a very strange kind of war. We’re not actually trying to win anything. We’re simply fighting so that we can hand the country back to the people. We’re fighting to give freedom. Unfortunately, too many people are spurning that gift.

Sounds like a familiar plot for this time of year, doesn’t it? Leaving one’s home to journey across more than just continents, from heaven to earth, to give a gift not everyone wants. Our armed forces have a tough job. But at Christmas, I hope they realize they are following a very sacred and honourable tradition. So to all of you slogging through Christmas far from home, and for those you have left behind, may this season bring you much peace, much joy, and the gratitude of those of us who are in awe of your sacrifice.

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