It’s his birthday and I’m waiting to call my brother to sing “Happy Birthday.”
It’s a silly, happy tradition: Our parents started it when we began leaving home, one by one, for school, marriage, work and travel. We all still call each other, for every birthday, dragging along partners and children, to sing this two-minute song of our childhood.
Silly, but heartwarming. I’m disappointed if I miss the actual calls on my birthday, and save the messages for a few days so I can replay their joyous voices. It’s a quick cure for homesickness.
Most of us sing off-key, but we all perform with gusto. After all, when family is your only audience, you know it’s not the tune they we want to hear most.
So, as I wait for my morning song, I’m thinking of my brother, with great love.
He has the biggest heart, and he is the sweetest soul.
He’s a peaceful man, who joined the Canadian Army as a teenager because school and work options were, in rural Canada then, very limited.
He thrived. He went from Arctic training to peacekeeping in Cyprus (where, ahem, he learned to windsurf). He mastered firearms, and won trophies for his skills. He became skilled at mediation between warring neighbors. (He had early training: Four other siblings didn’t always live in peace together, and Rob was usually the calmest of all.)
He was posted to one country after another, missing births and infancy of his children. He longed for his wife and family, through one posting after another. I believe each conflict, especially in Africa and the Middle East, was tougher on him than he’s ever acknowledged.
But Rob was a Canadian peacekeeper, and we were immensely proud of him and his place in the world. We’ve always been proud of him — pacifists in the family and those who support war — because of his sacrifice and his mission to help others.
Rob has many heartbreaking stories, especially of the difficult years of peacekeeping in Somalia. Yet it’s his humor that shines through every story, in every part of the planet where he served. To listen to him is to feel good about our survival as a warring species.
When his family wanted him to retire and leave the often-thankless job of peacekeeping to others, Rob agonized over the decision and signed up again. When he finally “retired”, in his 40s, he rejoined his wife and children near a base, and maintained military friendships through a new business.
He served in Afghanistan this year, and it broke our hearts. It was not a peacekeeping mission. He wasn’t in combat; Rob was serving the Canadian troops this time, after almost three decades of his own service.
Wherever you are in the world, Rob, I am proud of you. I am ever-grateful for your work as a peacekeeper, especially because it’s such a Canadian approach to helping heal the planet’s most wounded places.
I am especially grateful that you’re home, safe and healthy, resuming your role in the family as the calm and loving peacekeeper.
There are many meanings to this word, and you continue to show us all the different shades of how to live it, at home and beyond.
I am grateful for your example, and I love you with all my heart.