One of the worst day-ruiners has to be a wet sock. Hands down, it’s awful. It stops you in your tracks. You know you’re going to have to air out your shoe. And in the worst case scenario you’re stuck sloshing around all day. It happened to me recently, and it couldn’t have been at a more sobering moment.

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This past March I spent two weeks abroad in France and Belgium (more details to follow). One of the most touching moments of the trip was walking on Omaha Beach, the stretch of the Normandy beaches where American troopers landed for one of the most infamous and bloody battles of WW2. The place rang with echoes of pain and torment. As I moved from the drier entrance to the beach, past the shard-like memorial, and onto the wet sand, I could see the footprints embedding themselves as young legs leapt off ducks, imprints of bodies downed by enemy fire, sprays of sand as bullets missed their targets, and the knee marks left by those who dropped down amongst the bedlam to be with a friend as he took his last breath, or try against that onslaught to heal a wounded brother.

Everyone – all 30 something students and teachers – was absolutely silent. There were no politics. No disagreements. No barriers. Just people blessed enough to walk onto that beach without a single fear of being hurt, of it being their last time on beach. What I saw was a student, previously disconnected from the potential joy of the trip, utterly lost in the moment. What I saw was a pair of students embracing, supporting each other although no one physically needed a hand. What I saw was a student staring off into the crashing tide, completely unfazed by the lack of a jacket and his decision to wear shorts on such an overcast and windy day. What I saw was a couple of kids who quietly and without question followed my directions for how to properly fold an American flag. What I saw was a group of students apparently reaching for shells or handfuls of sand to carry as mementos, when they might as well have been trying to bury themselves in the omnipresent memories of those who were carried home instead, shells of their former selves and too soon to be sand.

And I stared into the horizon, imagining the vessels carrying these terrified, brave men into an uncertain battle, sure of their purpose but wary from the travel. And as I sought that perfect mound of sand to stand on I was distracted by a bright purple shell. I reached down and shifted my footing to grab it.

And I stepped my right foot directly into the water.

Normally that would have triggered my anger, or made me feel self-conscious. But there was something visceral happening around me. History flooded my every sense. It was inescapable. I had submerged myself into an ocean of a moment, shared by so many, stretched across time, and yet utterly singular and personal. There is no way to disconnect and yet there are miles between. It’s a comforting dissonance. Much like my reaction to my lack of reaction. I just stopped. There was no revelation. There was no poetic bursting forth as I realized what my being angry meant in the face of the vastness and weight of this place. I just didn’t get mad.

Because years before me there were hundred of kids with wet socks, too scared to be mad about it, to determined to think about it -sloshing onto a beach, boots needing more that airing out.

And now as I look back at my pictures I realize that pictures don’t show wet shoes, but they hold more than we can ever hope to see in them.

 

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