"A bowl of soup is nothing to you," he pauses long, his eyes wet with remembrance, hands pantomiming holding a bowl of soup, "but to me, it is different." Our little group all but holds our breath as Roger takes us back in time to that moment when he was given a bowl of soup and told by "the lady" that he not only didn't have to share it with the other children, he could have another if he was still hungry.
One afternoon that drew late into the evening. This man who won our hearts as he shared stories of the "Americans soldiers who came to set Europe free." This man who so passionately and tenderly told story after story of "the liberators." He asked us, "If these men had bombed your town and caused your houses and possessions to burn up, would you invite them to stay for dinner?" His smile espoused mystery, his eyes were bright as he answered our silence, "But we did. We were glad to have them." He was referring to the Americans "who were so different from their captors."
Changed. We drove home that night, awed, quiet, contemplative. Touched to deep places within that we weren't aware were there... places where pain, loyalty, courage, inspiration, and love swirled as we tried to wrap our minds around the stories.
On Thursday we visited the World War II Museum in Caen (pronounced Con), France where we walked slowly, methodically through more stories, mementos, pictures, exhibits. We tried to put the pieces all together. Tried to understand the heart of man. How there can be so much hate in one; so much love in another.
And when our minds were full to the brim we drove about 30 kilometers northwest. We popped up our umbrellas, tugged our jackets a little tighter around us, and followed the path to a point that overlooked Omaha Beach. (Even now, I cannot stop the tears as I write.) To remember the sacrifices made. My three young men hovered under the umbrella with me as we walked a little further only to pause long at the edge of the American cemetary. 9,387 grave markers, most of whom lost their lives during Operation Overlord on D-Day, June 6, 1944 and in the ensuing operations.
Changed. It is with a new reverance and respect, a gratitude like I never had before... before I started to "get it"... that I view the men and women who courageously, valiantly fight for freedom. Everywhere. I've been so naive. Now I say, thank you, to those who make sacrifices for me, for my children, for the mommas in other lands who long for freedom for their children. Thank you. Thank you.
A little while later, we squished our toes in rain-drenched sand at Utah Beach. Our minds were brimming over with information. Our hearts have been changed for the better. May we never forget.
(More to come... with pictures...)