You got a boo-boo

Chaplain’s CornerHoward Rittenhouse

Padre Howard Rittenhouse

A long time ago, on a base far, far away, there was a platoon of recruit chaplains. They were eager, excited, motivated, and very dim. Well, some were. There were a few who were quite intelligent, thoughtful, and really very smashing blokes with whom to have a pint (you’ll never guess in which group your esteemed writer puts himself).

One day, these padres-in-production were square-bashing under the command of an energetic and daunting former Patricia, MCpl (then) Chabot. Up and down the square under a hot sun and his baleful eye we marched (poorly) until a plaintive voice was heard: “MCpl, I can’t do this. I have a sore leg.”

The eye of Sauron fell upon this hapless soul. We all shrank back fearing fire and torment. But all the good master corporal said was, “OK. Sit down. I’ll tell you a war story.” So we eagerly took a seat, grateful for the break. And he proceeded to tell us about training with the French commandos in South America: torrential rain, steamy humidity, mud everywhere, spiders as big as sheep, steep hillsides covered in jungle. A few days in, he broke his collar bone, but endured the remainder of the training, gritting his teeth, unwilling to take a knee, determined to finish the course.

It was then he uttered his now famous words, “But I finished the course! And you? You got a boo-boo?!?” My hitherto sore companion leapt to his feet muttering, “I’ll show him!” and we continued our square-bashing. MCpl Chabot’s story was deliberate, of course, designed to elicit this very reaction.

I was reminded of that long-ago episode when that same padre (greyer) was invited by that same former-MCpl (ditto) to speak about resiliency on a web cast. He talked about what it means to be resilient, able to recover when stretched and challenged. It doesn’t mean being unchanged by your experiences, trauma, or ordeals, but that you’re able to bend without breaking like a reed in the wind. How does one do that?

He offered three tactics gleaned from research:

1) A realistic outlook on life. Don’t expect everything to be sunshine and roses. When difficulties come (and they will like COVID-19), embrace the suck! This is more than mere pessimism; it’s being able to accept what is, not what ‘should’ be or dreaming of ‘what-ifs.’

2) Able to see meaning and purpose in our situation. Instead of moaning about how unfair life is (see #1), the resilient hang onto things like spiritual values, or something greater than themselves, and thereby remain anchored in the torrent rather than being swept away.

3) Able to improvise. This is a tactic many of us have been taught in the CAF. It was our mantra on basic: Adapt and overcome! Taught to us by experienced infanteers who were our training staff, we took it to heart. Improvise solutions like the vehicle techs who kept the old ML on the road with wire, jury-rigged parts, and more than a little hope.

And I would add a fourth tactic: humour. Those who are able to laugh at themselves, at the absurdities of life, and in the face of trials bend and bend some more. We laughed a lot on basic – it was that or cry. And judging by the number of memes on Facebook, we must be laughing non-stop at the absurd and weird things said or seen during COVID-19.

So as we continue to engage in social distancing, masking, working from home, wondering what the next months may have in store, how might you develop these tactics in your life?

howard.rittenhouse@forces.gc.ca