There is no one, really, in the West, much less in the world itself, who is not the recipient of grace given us 65 years ago today on the beaches at Normandy. No one can guess how the world would have fared if that immense assault at fortified, occupied Europe had--as it could have--simply failed. Would Hitler have left America alone, an island far, far away? Or would the Reich's dreams of world domination have staked claims here, too? No one knows.
What we do know is that thousands and thousands died that day, once Eisenhouwer simply said, "Okay, let's go." It's impossible to know what must have gone in that man's mind that day as he undoubtedly and certainly knew that thousands would never reach the shore. But he gave the word, and they went, and the rest is history.
We watched the elegance of the ceremony there today, including speeches by heads of state from England, Canada, France, and the US; but more important, I suppose, was the gallery of vets that sat neary, rows upon rows of 80- and 90-year olds who were boys, literally, on that day.
What happened that day is my story, too, even though my father was a world away in the South Pacific; but I married into a story too, a story that shaped who I am and who my children are. My mother-in-law, recently passed away, was engaged-to-be-married, as they say, to a man who took one step off one of those landing crafts and met his end in the cold waters of the channel. They were sweethearts, I'm sure, lovers. But he was one who died before he ever got to the sand.
After the war, there remained a diamond, and my mother-in-law was left with the difficult question of what to do with what had ornamented her left hand for a couple of years. Life had to go on. She had to find another way into the future than the one she'd had planned with him, so she went off the local jewelry store and made a swap--that ring for a mantle clock, a clock which we have--and have had for some time--in a spare bedroom.
It's impossible for me to go through any Jun 6 and not think of that clock and what it represents. After all, my wife is a child of my mother-in-law's subsequent love, the man she married in 1946. She wouldn't be here--or the she who she is--wouldn't be here if that young GI hadn't fallen on June 6, 1944. The whole shape of things wouldn't be at all what they are if he hadn't met his death there in the rain of bullets that killed hundreds on an otherwise naked stretch of beach.
That death has been spoken of only in whispers, of course, ever since. And that's the way it should be. But those whispers cannot eliminate the truth, and the truth has, as people say, literally set all of us free.
So this morning's thanks--June 6, 2009--is for a man who is remembered only, perhaps, in a small town Memorial Day celebration not far down the road from where I live, a hero whose body likely finally came to rest on the beach he fully intended to conquer. Without a doubt, he did, even in his death.
There are equally horrific results when we measure the importance of history--if we forget, we cut off ourselves from our stories, become senile, as senility is often defined as a condition some suffer when they have no memory. On the other hand, we can--and many do--live so deeply with the scars of the past that they can't move on or find joy. Somewhere between those two extremes the rest of us must and do live.
Today, at least, I'll make a visit to the spare bedroom and check out the mantel clock, which isn't ticking, isn't sounding its chimes right now, but still is there. It still is there.