Someone I Did Not Know

Someone I Did Not Know

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I did not know Private Patrick Lormand, of the 22nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment in the Canadian armed forces. He died Sunday when the armored vehicle he was riding in was bombed southeast of Kandahar City in Afghanistan.

I do not know what possessed me to find the link to an online guestbook-memorial and sign it. I never do that, mostly because I have no idea what it really accomplishes other than giving people something to do.

But, actually, I do know: it was his picture. A standard portrait by a military photographer of a young man with clear eyes. I’ve seen these pictures before, but every now and then, one just grabs me by the heart, and his was it. For a few moments, I thought about the life that he will not lead: he will not marry, have children, win, lose, fight, love, or grow old. He will not bury his parents. He will not kiss his girlfriend goodnight. There will be this insufferable silence in his childhood home, that unbearable quiet that descends everywhere when you walk into a room where a loved one once slept. It’s all different now, it’s not the same. I have no idea about what he liked or disliked, what he was good or bad at. And it isn’t that I would have ever met him, but sometimes I wonder how is that that people intersect the lives of others. I ran across his obituary while glancing at a Canadian news Web site and his picture—that young, handsome face with those clear eyes—broke me. I can’t explain why: it just did.

Here was a man at the beginning of his life. He served his country, he went to war, he risked his life. He was cut down. His voyage home is one of eternal repose, not plans for the future. The tracks of his life stopped in the year 2009. He won’t be coming back.

It isn’t that I don’t think about the American soldiers who have died in either Afghanistan or Iraq—they are my own countrymen!—or the stories that I hear of other young men and women who leave home and come back forever silent. This death, this loss is no different from others in that respect. But it is different in that way that defies explanation or rational thought. It’s not about country, class, gender or ethnicity. It’s not about making a political statement about Canadian or American foreign policy. It’s partly about that my blood is red and so was his, but mine moves with life. His no longer does. I am almost twice his age but he—so full of future promise—accomplished more. But his story stops. Mine continues. I’m reminded of the mysterious line in Genesis when Rebecca, feeling the twins struggle in her womb, asks, “If so, why do I exist?”

I wonder where the deep sentimentality comes from; I am normally resigned to fatalism, to the genuine bleakness of human existence. But now, when I see his picture, I so want to believe in an afterlife. I want to believe that he is in the eternal valley under a sun that never gets hot and that there is justice and infinite peace for a soul that I did not know. I don’t care what religion you believe in: who does not want to see their loved ones again? And it is this idea, beyond the comprehension of science and rationality, that I want to be true for his mother, father and brother. He will see you again! I wish I could say. He’s in no pain in that blessed abode. Don’t worry, he’s okay now.

This is the power of an image, this searing feeling of compassion, anger and heartbreak for someone I did not know.

Reposez en paix.