Beautiful and Terrible

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

Frederick Buechner

Looking down at the beach from Pointe du Hoc in Normandy. Of the 225+ Rangers that attacked, only 90 survived.

On my little journey of beautiful places drawing ever nearer to my home, today’s stop is Normandy.

Normandy itself was beautiful. I didn’t know I could so readily fall in love with a place that wasn’t my home. Even Wyoming took its time to grow on me.

But with Normandy, it was love at first sight.

Lush green farmland. Cows. Old stone buildings. History. Friendly people. Patisseries. Beaches.

The beaches are beautiful.

And terrible.

I couldn’t look at them without feeling a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat.

Beach view from the walkway at the American Cemetery in Normandy

This is a place where brave men sacrificed themselves for others. It doesn’t get more beautiful and terrible than that.

We’ve talked about taking a family trip to Normandy. I want my children to see and know what happened there.

“Do they have regular beaches there?” one of my children asked.

“Yes,” I said, because I had seen them — stretches of sand and ocean.

But I’m not sure I could play there, on these beaches where men died.

Imagine, if you will, that our soldiers hadn’t done what they did there. What a different world we would live in. It almost compels me to play there — and enjoy the freedom purchased with their sacrifice.


A friend tagged me in a photography challenge that involves posting nature photos (taken by me) for seven days. She did it on Facebook, but I’m going to do mine here, starting with far away places and moving closer to home every day.

Today, Day #3, is from Normandy, over 3400 miles from Cooperstown!

I’m going to tag some of my favorite bloggers to take up the challenge too. If you’re tagged and don’t want to do it, that 110% fine with me. I totally understand.

Vanessa — I’m tagging you because I love your garden pictures. Flowers always make me smile.

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A Brief Recounting of Our Trip to France

I confess — I had to look up the meaning of evanescent, this week’s photography challenge. It means “soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence; quickly fading or disappearing.”

That’s describes my trip to France, I thought.

Life is already crowding out the moments I thought I would savor for a long time.

To hold onto the memories a little longer, I put together a two picture per day summary.

May 13 — Travel day

British Airways took very good care of us. At the urging of a friend, I upgraded both my father and my brother to each have a “Biz Bed”. Because we were traveling with someone who needed assistance (my father was in a wheelchair), we also got special treatment. I’m not exactly sure what all the little dots meant, but they were good. My brother and father got to eat in the British Airways lounge before the flight, while Bud and I had a quiet dinner in a little airport restaurant. 

It was pouring when we left Newark. This was my view out the window.

May 14 Arrive in France, make our way to Normandy

My sister and her husband met us at the airport.

When we finally arrived at Bayeux, we were tired and hungry. I had Croque Monsieur for the first time in my life at a little cafe a stone’s throw from our hotel.

May 15 Normandy

We loved everything about our hotel in Bayeux, the Villa Lara. This rabbit guarded the stairway door.

For our first day with our guide, he brought us to the Pegasus Bridge and the Canadian cemetery. Colin had so many stories to tell, but I think my favorite of all of them was here, of the bagpiper who played for the British troops.

May 16 Normandy

We had coffee every morning in a little sitting area off my sister’s room. I loved seeing the cathedral.

Among the places we visited this day was Sainte-Mère-Église where a paratrooper had gotten caught on the church steeple.

May 17 Normandy — then travel to Paris

The craters from the shelling at Omaha Beach were very impressive.

 

The view from a German bunker at Omaha Beach.

Then we drove to Paris.

May 18 Paris

We walked around Paris. Old and new stand side by side.

Dinner cruise on the Seine. The Eiffel Tower is pretty spectacular.

May 19 Paris

LaDuree — the macaroons are amazing.

Impressive art at the Petit Palais.

May 20 Travel day

The return trip. Waiting at the airport.

 

I’m easily amused. I thought “Salad Sauce” was funny. The flight home felt a thousand times longer — I looked for entertainment where I could find it.

May 21 Collapse

This was how we all felt the next day.

 

O Canada

On our first day of touring Normandy, our guide ended the day at the Canadian cemetery.

I can’t tell you how many times over the course of the day, as Colin told us stories of the D-Day invasion, focusing that first day on what the British and the Canadians were doing, I said, “Really?! I had no idea that the Canadians were here!”

I confess, I did NOT do my prep for this trip. I was so focused on getting my father there and thinking about the details of that, that I didn’t finish any reading on it. In all truth, I barely began the reading.

“Did you watch ‘Band of Brothers’?” Colin asked more than once.

Nope.

“Have you seen ‘The Longest Day’?” he asked.

Nope.

I probably made a pretty tough audience.

“Just focus on him,” I told Colin, indicating my father. The rest of us — we were just filler.

Colin, my father, Bud

But yes, our lovable neighbor to the north — the most kind, friendly, big-brotherly people — the ones who, in the course of our vitriolic election, let us know that they think we’re great  — those guys fought in World War II for the Allies. They took Juno Beach on D Day.

While I was still trying to wrap my mind around that, Colin brought us to the Canadian cemetery.

Military cemeteries are sobering places. France donated the land to all the countries for their cemeteries, even the Germans.

I heard a couple discussing that fact — and the husband said, “The French don’t hold grudges.”

But Canada’s was the first we visited — and I watched my sister wipe tears from her eyes. I watched through the fogginess of my own.

The Canadian cemetery

Rows of stones with names and ranks and divisions and dates of death etched below the maple leaf that decorated each one. Some families had other words, often about self-sacrifice, engraved as well. The Canadian government made the provision for families to do that.

The grounds were so beautifully tended. Wisteria climbed the arches near the entrance. A variety of flowers  bloomed between the stones.

Wisteria

Visitors left small tokens. Pebbles on the tops of Jewish soldiers graves – to signify the permanence of their memories. Loonies and other coins on the tops of others. Paper poppies and wreaths at the center cross.

Someone’s small remembrance

Our heritage, our freedom, rested on the backs of these brave young men.

It’s a debt that can never be repaid.

All we can do is remember.

And whisper a little “thank you.”