As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I want to write about our trip to Normandy a few years ago but I'm daunted by the magnitude of what occurred on those beaches and how the sacrifices of all those soldiers allow us to live the life we have today.
When my husband, Mark, and I took our trip, I discovered that there is a huge difference between seeing movies or reading about WWII and actually being at the site.
We were walking around the Caen Memorial Museum trying to understand what we were seeing when I spotted the Jewish star, the yellow star that every Jew had to wear. I was mesmerized and hit by emotions I never expected—I couldn’t stop the tears.
Seeing the tangible object, a simple piece of fabric used to differentiate some citizens from others and identifying them as being less worthy—nonhuman—and chosen to be annihilated, it couldn’t be real. Yet there it was in front of me. I could never again not see it. I could no longer not feel the real people whose stories had been destroyed.
In one epiphanic moment, I knew that there is a big difference between understanding something intellectually and knowing it in your bones. Once my emotions were awakened, I couldn’t walk away.
When we got to Omaha Beach, the sun was shining, it was a beautiful day, and the sand was dotted with people playing and laughing near the water without a care in the world.
I was horrified! How could they possibly be frolicking on these sands? These are the beaches that saw such cruelty, so much death and injury. Why were these people having so much fun on this sacred spot?
I looked at Mark who I realized was having exactly the same thoughts, only his experience was far more intense: he was seeing this beach knowing that his father was one of the soldiers who landed here and helped defeat the enemy. (Thankfully, Mark’s father survived.)
But as quickly as I had the horrified reaction, I had another epiphany. So thunderstruck was I that I said it out loud: “Oh, that was the point! D-Day was about making certain everyone could come to the beach!”
Mark nodded and replied, “I know. I was upset to see everyone and then I realized the same thing. They should be here. It’s so strange isn’t it?”
It was when we entered the cemetery and I saw all the crosses extending out in all directions to create a perfect order that the whole of what had been done—the magnitude of the battle—became something so glorious it took my breath away.
As we walked around reading the names on individual crosses, knowing they each had a history and a family just like us, a whole other level of understanding hit: each person here had fought the enemy—people who had invaded and waged war on all that we hold dear.
The Americans won, they and the Allies and all the underground fighters and anonymous heroic resisters saved the world and freed the land for people like myself whom they didn’t even know!
Saying “Thank you for my freedom” just doesn’t seem to be enough. If we don’t also commit to not letting it happen again, "thank yous" are meaningless.
As human beings we have the capacity for infinite good as well as infinite evil and we have the ability to choose how we are going to behave—that is our power.
If we want to stop global warming, then every decision we make has to support that goal. We can’t wait for someone else to do it for us. It may mean we have to go without some of the comforts we are used to. It is only when we look at our decisions from the perspective of our larger goal that we can see it is not a sacrifice but a step in the right direction.
I think back on the scene of Senator John McCain talking to a woman who was expressing her fear of Obama during a town hall event.
“I can’t trust Obama, I have heard about him, he’s an Arab,” she said.
"No ma’am, no. He is a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. That is what this campaign is all about,” McCain replied.
In that moment, McCain chose to educate the woman without demeaning her. She wasn’t less of a person; she was a person who was misinformed.
The woman was expressing fears that other voters had and if McCain had stayed silent his action could have influenced those frightened voters to vote for him. But by focusing on the bigger picture and telling the truth about another human being, he acted to protect all our freedom.
Expecting our armies to defend our freedom is fine as long as we are willing to fight for that same freedom in our daily lives and make decisions for the greater good. It requires taking a moment to think before we act, asking ourselves "What is the significance of this action? Will it support my freedom and therefore the right of every other living being to also live free? Is it truthful?"
If our ultimate goal is clear, then when a situation arises we will always know what to do.
If we want the wars to stop and the deaths of our loved ones to end, we have to stop pretending our actions do not have an effect on the bigger picture. We all have free will to choose.
I’ve seen that cemetery and know there are many, many more cemeteries. How can I ask someone to fight for something I myself am not willing to fight for every day?
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We were invited to join our good friends Pierre and Ellie to renew their wedding vows. Our instructions were to arrive at dawn. We approached the building through a heavy fog, that sat low to the ground making it hard to see where going. Out of that fog, we heard a voice: “Birds, birds, it’s this way.” We spotted a fanciful silhouette, a man wearing a cloak and a hat . . .
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