Saving Private Ryan and Omaha Beach

Well, I knew I would have to watch the movie again once we got home. Today was the day. It’s a beautiful fall day here in Arkansas. The leaves have been changing for a few weeks now, and the oranges, reds, and yellows of fall are peeking through all the windows in our home. I have my fall decor out on the island in the kitchen, as well as our dining table. I have checked our plants to make sure that they are all “happy”, watered and the like. I have sat out in the backyard on more than one occasion over the past few days, just looking up to the sky, a changed person from this time last year. More serene, calmer, hardly ever angry, just being and loving life.

The movie is Saving Private Ryan, the war epic shot in Ireland, England, and my beloved France in 1998. It doesn’t really seem like it has been 17 years, but after seeing a new Tom Hanks / Spielberg movie last night, Bridge of Spies, one can tell that Tom Hanks, like the rest of us, has aged in these past seventeen years. Those years have passed, for me, in a flash looking back, although living them seemed like forever at times. Where was I 17 years ago? Living in northeast Arkansas, working for the electric company, the chamber of commerce, and then moving to Pulaski County in November of that year. I think in my whole life that is the only year where I have had 3 jobs. I never intended to really leave the chamber, but I ended up moving to be closer to a sick loved one, so that my son could enjoy whatever time they had left together. It was a good move, in so many respects. I cannot imagine my life if I had chosen to stay up north.

I had been out of college 4 years at that point. I still had not found my “fit” or really advanced much beyond where I started when I got out of school. Yes, I had made some more astute acquaintances along the way, meeting the who’s who in the chamber of commerce world and business world around Jonesboro. It was a life, but certainly not the one I ever thought I deserved or dreamed it could be. It was boring, honestly, and I needed more excitement. Like so many people in their late 20s, I felt a pull to the bigger city, to more adventure, to travel, and to life. Ahh, to life.

Those 17 years were also not easy. I lost that loved one five years later. I lost several friends along the way as well, two far too young and both from cancer. One to a car accident. And others. Also family members. It happens. We age, people age, people die. It’s a fact of life, but that doesn’t make it easier, really.

In those 17 years, I worked at a small non-profit for about 18 months, 14-1/2 years at a large non-profit, and I’ve been in private practice as an attorney for a year next week. I went to law school. I got divorced (finally). I got remarried. I saved, I scrimped, I dreamed. Finally, I travelled. Oh, did I travel. In ten years, we have been to more than 15 countries. We’ve been to places I’d only seen in my dreams or on TV. We’ve been to Barcelona, Genoa, Tunis, St. Kitts, Barbados, St. John (Canada), Hawaii, Naples, Sicily, and Marseilles, among others.

This year, we went to Normandy, on the northern area of France. This year, we went to Omaha Beach.

We drove up from Paris in our rental car. I’ve posted about this previously, but today, after watching the movie again after so many years, I found myself actually feeling that wind coming off the English Channel again. I now know the smell of that ocean. The feel of the rough wind rolling across those 9,000+ graves and headstones. The feel of the ocean’s surf on my feet. I imagined it, when I was standing in it, stained red on that day in June 1944, when our fighting men stormed the beach, and took control back of France and the modern world. I imagined the screams of the men on the beach, the metal barriers they had constructed to keep the tanks off the beach and keep the boys from being shot. The bunkers and trenches, one of which is still visible today far to the left of the beach as you are looking up the hill to the memorial site. I imagined how scary it must have been, and how peaceful it is now. Serene, sacred, honorable. America at its very best. France thankful to have our help. So many have forgotten this.

Times change. It’s been 71 years since that day so long ago. Nearly all of the survivors of those battles are gone, now joined back again with their fighting brothers who died in June 1944 on the shores of France. Little towns we passed through look the same. There are cows and sheep on the hillsides. A church in Formigny still stands, having survived the 100 Years’ War and D-Day’s liberation. On June 8, 1944, this little town was liberated by the U.S. forces who came onto the beach that day. There is a bed and breakfast, and even a small restaurant. No other commercialization is anywhere to be seen. Just the way it should be, in my opinion. Otherwise, it would just not be the French countryside of one’s dream, mine anyway.

As I watched the first and last scenes in the movie, I cried. I sobbed, much like I sobbed so much that day as I walked around the corner and saw the 9,000+ grave markers on that hillside. I have never experienced that kind of emotion before. I don’t know if I ever will again. But, one reason was because that entire trip was the stuff of my dreams. Yes, I had to wait until I was 44 to obtain that dream. To finally reach my lifelong goal of going to Paris. But I did it. All on my own. We had no one’s help. And, being older, I truly believe we appreciated it more than we would have otherwise. There is a sense of urgency in the young, but not so much when you’re in your 40s. You learn to slow down and enjoy things.

Today, I enjoyed watching a movie, with a quiet house, with my dog, and my new fall decor. I enjoyed a walk with my fur child, down the street, feeling the cool autumn breezes. I enjoyed so much. I am thankful. I am also humbled, once again, by the movie and the memory of the cold English Channel rolling over my toes on a beach where so many paid a high price for the freedom we, the French, and so many others in the world, enjoy today.

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