Five years ago, I was in France. We landed at the port extremely early in the morning after a peaceful yet cramped crossing of the English Channel. After going through customs, I and my travel group had a breakfast of sugared doughnuts and the creamiest hot chocolate ever. Then we got on a bus and headed to Normandy. Of our whole trip, this was the part I was dreading. We were heading to the Normandy American Cemetery.
As part of traveling in such a big group, we were told to go everywhere in groups of at least four. Yet as we walked through the cemetery, we all drifted apart, walking through the rows of graves with nothing but our thoughts to keep us company. It was such a beautiful day. The sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze, and the grass was a perfect shade of green. The channel lapped against the beach where so many ran, fought, and died. I couldn’t help but feel so grateful, that these men had been so brave and that they had such a gorgeous place to rest. But at the same time I felt so sad and so guilty. I felt that it shouldn’t have happened, that so many men should not be so separated from their families in death as they were toward the end of their lives.
Though I felt so mixed up about that day, I remember it as one of the most profound of my life. Because it was then that I realized it was okay to let the past affect me, to learn from the fact that I could walk in the surf of what once was a bloody battlefield. Because the people of the past give us what we have now. They give us their good things, but also their bad things, and it’s important to remember both. And whether we like it or not, the past in turn affects us. It shapes our mentality, our culture, and how we view ourselves on multiple levels. And however far we progress into the future, we should at least remember the past, because one day, we will be the past and others will have to deal with what we leave behind. And on this day, five years after I walked the verdant pathways of the Normandy Cemetery and one hundred years after the horrendous battle of the Somme, I am struck again by what I learned. It is okay to let the past in. Don’t let it cripple or break you, but learn from it. Like all balances, it’s delicate but necessary to move forward.
Photo credited to: http://www.britishlegion.org.uk