I’ve always wanted to travel to France—the country of love, cafés, museums, fashion, great champagne, and so much history. It was the history, especially, that made me fall in love with this region as a child. I dreamed of visiting its ancient castles and getting lost in gardens with endless hedges and topiaries.
So I finally decided to pack my bags and set off to France. A visit that, to this day, holds the place of being one of the best trips of my life.
When most people hear France, they immediately jump to ideological thoughts of Paris and all things ‘French’—fashionable, nonchalant people eating baguettes under a sparkling Eiffel Tower. My love for France, however, began when I learned about the invasion of the beaches of Normandy during World War II and when I read the epitaphs of the fallen soldiers on the landing beaches of D-Day.
Further, when I learned about all it’s surrounding cemeteries today. I’ve always made it a point to visit them when somewhere new. What I experienced in my visit to one cemetery in Normandy, however, had far more impact than I had ever expected.
On our tour bus, Maria—a young girl—informed us that her grandfather was potentially resting in one of the cemeteries we’d be visiting. Our group in a shared enthusiasm, made it a mission to find his grave. Yet, there were hundreds of these gravestones, and the chances of our bus stopping even close enough to the spot where her grandfather laid seemed unlikely.
Surrounded by countless flowers and graves honoring thousands of war heroes resting, I closed my eyes and reflected upon my life and the now, past lives of these soldiers and their families. I couldn’t stop but think of the horrors of the war and the courage that these soldiers and civilians demonstrated to fight for fairness and freedom.
We walked around, civilians who could do nothing but admire the heroic acts of the history around us in search for one of these fallen soldiers. And, there it was, his gravestone, the universe had put us in the exact place we needed to be for Maria to be able to find her grandfathers grave!
While departing, I noticed other travelers visiting the cemeteries, and wondered how many families had made this same trip to find their fallen loved ones, like Maria. Reflecting on the now subtle yet very important fact that in these same cemeteries were the the Allies and the Germans, together, neighbored and buried in the same soil.
Understanding, that despite the many differences we allow to justify why we are not all one, we are all still at the end of the day the same. Beings with the capacity to laugh, cry, feel, and even unite with a common goal to make one girl’s intention a reality. Human beings that all have the same ultimate destination. Yet, we choose to treat our time like battle fields, picking and choosing our ‘enemies’, turning our heads to the much greater power and innate ability we hold to help others like us.
The history of many was lost during D-Day, but for some like Maria, it is still a living memory of the life her grandfather once lived. I chose Normandy simply because of the history I had read in books, not knowing the very real lesson this trip would teach me would forever be one of the greatest one’s of all. The understanding of our power in choosing to divide or us unite as one.
Should you ever have the pleasure to visit the beautiful country of France, I urge you to make the trip to Normandy and re-live, if only for a day, a piece of history. And when you do, take the time to reflect in the midst of a solemnly beautiful surrounding.