Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Nominee for 2006 Hero of the Year
Every year, many people do their year-end lists, and I used to be one of those people. You know, before the baby came along and I stopped seeing enough movies, listening to enough music, or reading enough books to actually maintain said lists (the TV viewing never died...). Instead of a year-end list, I'm just going to talk about one person who I hope is remembered at the end of the year for being the sort of hero who only appears in movies or in books.

Earlier this year, Canadian soldier Captain Trevor Greene was on a peace mission in Afghanistan. He was visiting villages, trying to bring peace and offer help to the villagers, asking them what they needed and arranging for those things to be brought to them. On March 4, 2006, Greene entered one of those villages, and sat in a circle with the village elders, as he had been invited to do. With his notepad open, ready to take down the details of what they needed, Greene removed his helmet, and sat it on the ground next to him. Just then, a villager came up behind him, and planted a hatchet in the back of Greene's head. It was later discovered that Greene had been set up, and the attack had been planned by the Taliban to once again show that they didn't want anyone's help. The man was immediately killed by other soldiers on the scene, and Greene was rushed to a hospital, where, miraculously, he survived. The worry then began, what sort of life would he have? And then he began talking. And joking. And eating. And laughing. And it was like Trevor had come back.

I know Trevor. I worked with him a few years ago on his book, Bad Date, which was an exposé of the missing Vancouver prostitutes. He is a beautiful writer, who wrote with such a passion and grace that I immediately acquired the book and became his editor. The book came out before the pig farm was discovered, so it was more of an account of what goes on on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, and to research the book, Trevor actually went to live there, on the streets, with the prostitutes and addicts. He got to know them, and they trusted him, and he didn't betray their trust. The families of the women who had gone missing also came to trust Trevor, and told him their stories. The book is a devastating account of a terrible thing that has happened in Canadian history, and showed the social conditions that made the government turn a blind eye rather than actually do anything about it.

Trevor Greene was never difficult to work with. He occasionally missed deadlines because of his time in the army, but always came back with a big apology and an amazing chapter to hand to me, and I forgave him the lateness. He never had a handful of excuses, just apologized and handed it in. He was generous with his time, he was compassionate to his subject matter, and I was very proud of him and the book. There were always tons of emails from him, always ending, "Yours, aye" and then his name.

When I opened the Toronto Star that morning in March to discover what had happened to him, I stared at the paper in shock. I burst into tears, and suddenly the war going on in Afghanistan became so much more real to me than it had before. I scoured papers and news stories for days afterwards, but after the initial shock of the story, the media stopped covering it. I eventually found a blog that was started by his family where friends and family could leave messages, and the most important messages were left by Greene's fiancee Debbie, and by April, she was saying he was joking around with the nurses, talking, and was clearly aware of his surroundings and seemed to be coming back to his old self. I breathed a sigh of relief, cried happy tears, and thought wow, someone was surely smiling down on Trevor that day.

And then this past week, the Toronto Star published an article by Mitch Potter -- a reporter who was with Greene when the accident happened, and had been the one to break the story -- showing the downside to Trevor's recovery that I hadn't heard about. In the article, Potter explains that Trevor was making a great recovery, but didn't actually know what had happened to him. When he was told in late April about the attack, he slipped into a depression that severely marred his recovery, and began regressing at such a rate his family were terrified he wouldn't recover after all.

Now Greene is beginning the slow road back, after several operations to his head, recovering from pneumonia, and overcoming numerous other obstacles that have gotten in his way. Despite everything that he's been through, and the upset and betrayal he must have felt when he discovered the truth behind his injuries, something tells me Trevor would still absolutely back the peace mission to Afghanistan, and would be urging us to keep troops there. Trevor is one of those rare, rare people who believes he can change the world, and then goes out and does what he can to actually follow through on his beliefs. I know too many people who believe that it's useless and silly to think you can change the world because it'll just get you killed. But if the world had more Trevors in it, we really could change it. I'm not saying we should be in Afghanistan, or we shouldn't, I just respect Trevor for his beliefs and what he's done to stand by them.

I wish Trevor and his family all of the best wishes for the holiday season, and beyond. His daughter is only a few months younger than mine, and in her young life she's known her daddy mostly as a man in a hospital bed. But what she will eventually learn is that her father is incredibly strong, and so is her mother, who goes to see Trevor daily and who has no doubt been his rock. This little girl will grow up to be one heck of an amazing little person, if she only gets a fraction of the strength her parents possess. Good luck to you Trevor, and know that so many people are thinking of you.

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