Two years ago I did not possess respect for awe-inspiring moments. I felt that people who claimed perspective could be changed by a single event were capricious and had a tendency to overstate an ordinary occurrence. However, my belief in moments that take your breath away took a 180 degree turn during a trip to Europe before my junior year.
After a sleepless night in a cramped cabin aboard an English Channel ferry, I arrived at a small port town in France adjacent to the city of Normandy. It was a brisk and misty morning when I arrived at my day’s destination: Omaha Beach. I was aware of this crucial World War II site, but history had never been my forte-it was too difficult for me to grasp the importance of a historical event from miniscule black and white print. However, from the second I set foot upon the sandy shore, trudging up the beach and seeing the lofty steel monument coming into view, my understanding began to change. Soon a ceremony was presented by the mayor of Normandy honoring the Allied countries. I was among one hundred people from across the United States joined together in the awe of the moment. Next came the speaker’s words, first in her native tongue of French and then, just as poetically, in English. Coming alive in my mind were the events that took place on June 6th, 1944, recounted by the speaker with intense imagery and emotion that the printed text of a history book could never match. She then described the immense appreciation and gratitude she and her country bore for the Allied efforts.
At this point I felt a tidal wave of emotions wash over me as I grasped the magnitude of the tragedy, heroism, and sacrifice that played out at this very location sixty-five years ago. Under a sky with threatening dark clouds and with the words of the speaker still reverberating in my mind, I next participated in a flag-raising ceremony. As the flags were raised the mayor named each country in the Allied efforts, their anthems resonating out over the stretch of golden sand. Then, as if from a scene in a movie, the clouds broke up and the sun shone through. I immediately made an association: the charcoal clouds were the long and harrowing war, the sun a savior and beacon of hope. By the time the final flag was hoisted to its peak the clouds had disappeared and the sun was illuminating the coast.
Never in my life had I felt more connection to the world, patriotism for my country, and appreciation for history and symbolism. From the magical moment in which the sun broke through the slate gray cloudy barrier I knew I had been changed forever. From that day forward I would look at each historical event and better grasp its significance much more than books could reveal. Each event has its own emotion and power to those who lived it then, and to the generations thereafter. Having witnessed this commemorative event which my words will never do justice, I became one of “them”- those who believe a single magnificent moment can change one’s perspective forever.
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