As we pass through the various French towns and villages of Normandy over the past few days, there's a common theme prevalent throughout: each house has at least one Canadian monument, and one Canadian flag flying proudly in the centre. This is in recognition and remembrance of the Canadian allied forces, who liberated these towns and their citizens from German occupation during World War II. When I see our Canadian flag I am filled with pride, but also with grief, as it exists because of the war. What was happening around me in the very spot I am standing back in June-July, 1944? How many troops died here? Which side were they on? Did any civilians lose their lives in this spot? It saddens me deeply to think about it.
In one particular town we stopped at today, Bretteville, I met an elderly man who lived there. This man observed us gathered near the monument and approached us, wanting to chat. With Lorelei and Robert translating, this man told a few of us that he was just 6 years old when his town was occupied, and he remembers clearly when Canadian troops came to liberate them. He spoke of what life was like in 1944, and told us that he is now the town historian. He spoke at length about ideologies, and how universally, world leaders are corrupt. When my friend Lorelei asked him if there's anything we can believe in, then, he answered: "We can believe in the people we meet with the beautiful smiles."
To me, this comment speaks volumes about being human, and how we all share similar dreams, emotions and feelings. I think that every single one of us, regardless of age, sex, race, nationality, religion, or which side you are fighting on in a war, all dream of freedom, justice and safety. We all crave to be treated with compassion, respect and empathy, and we all have some element of inherent kindness. Although past history and current politics may cause most people to lose all hope in humanity and the idea of inherent kindness, I, like the 81 year old survivor we met in Bretteville today, remain optimistic about the world, have faith in the human spirit, and take comfort in the people we meet with the "beautiful smiles".
- Submitted by Karen