The Beaches of Normandy

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Europe » France
March 18th 2016
Published: June 10th 2017
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What all we do quickly changes into memories. The trick, for me, is to occasionally enjoy reliving things I have done, but remembering to focus on today, what is happening right now. These minutes will all too quickly also be gone; when I woke up this morning is already my past.

Today we are in Honfleur, a port town originating in the 11th century. Tomorrow we'll have our last day in Paris, and then Sunday will be spent mostly in little cramped containers flying west through the air. That will be a good day to spend time in the past.

Yesterday, a bright, beautiful --but cold-- gem of a day, we had the honor of visiting Normandy beaches and the American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Beginning at the cemetery, we had a little ceremony to commemorate the lives lost during the D-Day landings, Operation Overlord. It was difficult to get through singing "The Star Spangled Banner" as many of us were caught up in the emotion evoked by so many lives lost, seeing their graves before us. Last year I visited, and was touched and overwhelmed, by Flanders Field, and this year by seeing the American Cemetery in France. 10,000 people are buried here. So much loss; so much pain. As I walked through row upon row of crosses, and occasional Stars of David, I patted as many as possible, trying to conjure the spirit of each person, imagining what his or her life had been before this, simply trying to acknowledge each as an individual. Looking out at the mass of crosses is too amorphous a feeling, but thinking of each of these graves as a unique person--with each of their families and friends mourning their losses--magnifies the horror. If only we could learn from these memories.

Afterwards we stopped at D-Day beaches: Gold Beach at Arromanches, Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc. On this cold, windy day the beaches were beautiful, but littered with the rusting remains of ships and bunkers and pieces of fortifications left as remembrances of what happened here. Today children ran and laughed, playing on the sand; I walked the beaches, stepping on slipper shells and oyster shells, trying to imagine what the young men thought as so many of those who leapt off the boats to scale the cliffs were killed or drowned. What were they feeling? Fear, certainly, and adrenalin probably carried most along, most to their deaths. The beaches all merged into one, for me, except for Pointe du Hoc where displays and photographs and countless craters made this area unique. By this time most of us were saturated with sadness; I dearly wanted to see something beautiful, something life-affirming. So I sat and looked at the Scottish Broom in bloom, but even that loveliness wasn't enough to pull my spirits from their depth.

Emotions can tire us out more quickly than physical exertion. It was a subdued group who returned to our ship this afternoon, only to be greeted by the whole crew standing outside in the cold wind, welcoming all of us Americans "home" after our emotionally draining day spent on the beaches at Normandy. This welcome, their lovely greeting totally unexpected, was understood to represent France's thanks to America. The warmth we felt from this simple yet elegant gesture brought us back to the present, grounding us again, unbounded life flowing through us.


25th March 2016

Well. you certainly give us, the less travelled of the world, wonderful word pictures with which to see our planet!
26th March 2016

Thank you, Laura, for sharing your trip. If I never get to make the trip myself, I'll have made my own mind pictures from what you've written.

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