Winter in Europe often presents a stage on which you are the only player.
Museums offer shorter lines, the Île Saint-Louis, normally foot-to-foot, is tranquil, and the small villages of France offer a typical hushed routine of local French human contact and camaraderie.
This was especially evident as I made my way to Normandy, tour bus traffic seeming to be on hiatus and allowing for personal ceremony. I momentarily regretted not paying my respects during this anniversary year alongside veterans this coming June.
Instead, my visit took place on Valentine’s Day, a fitting tribute to loves lost; spouses left without their partners, parents mourning their young adults, children who would never know their mother or father, siblings and friends left no longer to confide in each other, and then there’s the unrequited kind. Love lives on forever.
Normandy rendered me consumed with emotion in meditative moments about our fallen soldiers who rest here, an ironically bucolic landscape by the sea – sacred ground I respectfully walked that day. The gently swirling air swept off the sea’s small whitecaps up onto the land, kissing the alabaster tombstones strategically placed in deference to our heroes.
At Pointe du Hoc, I held steady against aggressive gusts of wind charging the cliffs, whipping me to attention as I imagined the U.S. overtaking German forces. Grasping the railing above a once occupied bunker, I observed the undisturbed and overgrown craters where incendiaries once landed.
Having reached down to touch the sand, I solemnly walked the beach at Omaha which U.S. forces stormed to liberate France.
My French friend and I ruminated over the fact that our two respective Presidents were meeting that very week.
“France will never forget what you did for us.”
And it reinforced my purpose in coming here.