It wasn’t exactly despair they were feeling; it was more like a refusal to understand, the stupor you feel when you’re dreaming, when the veil of sleep is about to lift, when you can feel the dawn light, when your whole body reaches out towards it, when you think, “It was just a nightmare, I’m going to wake up now. ~ Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky
As we stumbled into the sunlight in Arromanches, after viewing a 360 degree movie with never before seen footage of D-Day and the 100 days following, Gold and Juno beach were right before our eyes.
There was an audible silence and then the kids made the connection that the tanks, the soldiers, the air raids, and all that chaos was right on this sparkling, sun drenched beach 70 years ago.
Our son Henry said, “It doesn’t seem possible that all that happened right here. It doesn’t seem like anything that awful could happen in such a beautiful place.” As we drove through the villages toward Omaha and Utah beach, we passed bombed out walls and the kids pointed at school houses that were partially rebuilt.
It was hard to comprehend so much destruction in such a peaceful area full of birdsong and turning plows.
They fired questions:
- Do you think it was good to have all that fighting so someone bad like Hitler didn’t stay in power?
- Do you think Hitler would have ever been in power without WWI?
- Do you think war has to happen?
- What wars are happening now?
- How do they start?
- How do you know when they are over?
- Who wins?
- How do you know who wins?
We spent a lot of time just listening to the questions. They are age-old questions and there are so many answers.
As we crested the hill in the American Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer, our son Max looked at the sea of white marble crosses and said, “I am glad Hitler was defeated but it looks like everyone lost something.”
We hiked up to the church on the cliffs above the Alabaster arches in Etretat and had a picnic. As we looked out to sea, our current vistas veiled with historic overlays, we felt full of gratitude for this moment of peace, for this overwhelming restored beauty and for experiences that lead to new questions.