Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I walked Omaha Beach after reading Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day. The experience stands as one of the best days of my life. I felt called there on that day. So much history, heroism, and courage lived on that beach front. So many stories I want to taste. Enter into. Touch. I began the day hoping to find something there. Hoping to enter into the reality of what happened in a more real way. Leading up to my tour, I had studied maps, listened to stories, read books, and watched movies. But alas, by day’s end I was let down. No amount of time spent on the beach could fulfill the yearning to understand, know, touch, and live the significance of June 6, 1944.
Recently I visited the neighborhood I grew up in, a place where a lot of great things happened. But also the place where my soul was torn and wounded. And that was why I went. To seek to understand more clearly what happened there. Before arriving, I peered off into the direction where I knew the house to be. Still miles away, I felt as if I was looking at a map. I know my house is there. And the neighborhood. And the place where I ran with my dog. Then it hit me: This was my own Omaha Beach. The destruction that seared its way through my heart, like a machine gunner’s bullet, happened there. It could all be mapped out. When all was over, I was left bleeding on the beach. Barely able to move and too scared to try.
Revisiting my neighborhood was much like walking in Normandy, France. Hard as I tried and bad as I wanted to, it was impossible to re-enter the past. Vivid memories did return, as well as some healing, but I left knowing I couldn’t bring the past back. Like Norman Maclean at the end of A River Runs Through It, I felt as if I walked the streets like it was the river of connection and redemption.
We each have our own bloody beach front. The place and time where life was ripped from us. I found myself wondering what it would really be like if we knew one another’s stories well enough to return to each other’s Omaha Beaches; to look upon them with the same awe as I did the battlefields in Normandy. We would recognize the incredible significance of what happened there, when the heart was seared and the vows were made to never open those places back up.