Admittedly, I have a lot of interests – nature, photography, education, jewelry making, gardening, baking, and others. But, recently I have learned more about WWII than I wanted to know.
In searching for a book, almost a month ago now, I was encouraged to read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Usually a slow reader, I read this 500+ page book in three days! Captivated by the characters she developed, I learned some of the unbelievably cruel events that took place during that time in world history, WWII -a time before I was born. The entire story, with the exception of a very few pages, takes place in France, a country I know little about. Hannah’s book takes you through the entire war, focusing on two sisters, their family, and the events that shape their future. Our future. Interwoven in this story were true facts and examples of the escalation that took place during the war as more and more non-nazi people were targeted. Believe me, there are some very sad parts to this book.
But, what struck me most, and what I was reminded of last night (I will get to this in a minute), was the gross atrocities that took place. The characters were fake but the events portrayed during this period of history were not. Stunningly shocking, unbelievably cruel actions that one human being took against another were well documented and reinvented as details in the novel. It was sickening. How do we arrive at such a place as individuals, as communities, as countries, as a race, and as a species? Are we, as humans, not all the same? Apparently, some feel we are not.
For Easter, I had purchased two DVD’s of recent movies for my husband’s basket. We are both trying to watch our weight, so they provided a better option than candy. Until last night we had not watched either of them. One of the titles was Dunkirk, but little did I know that I had purchased the BBC Documentary named the same as a recent major motion picture. We popped it in the DVD player and spent two hours of our Wednesday evening exposed to even more horrendous atrocities than had been revealed to us by our reading of The Nightingale. (My husband had read Hannah’s book after me, at my recommendation.)
For me, this was even worse, as there was some real footage of the bombings at Dunkirk as the British and French troops tried to evacuate from the beach. These were not characters, in a well-developed historical fiction novel, but real people – many of them just boys – not much older than my boys are now. While The Nightingale book offered some amazing stories of human hope and resilience, it was more difficult to detect during the BBC’s documentary of Dunkirk when one’s visual and auditory senses were being assaulted. I recounted a few of the scenes to one of my son’s this morning. The vision of a few of the British soldiers being shot in the back while the remainder of their battalion watched and then were killed as they were corralled into a barn in which several hand grenades were thrown, was still near the surface of my memory.
Then, there were the scenes of the boats being loaded on the beaches at Dunkirk. These men and boys were weak from exhaustion and starvation. Although the documentary did not say, I could clearly see that many of them must have drowned while being evacuated, just from having to battle the surf while already having been worn down by the war and sacrifice of sleep and food.
Today, as the sun shines after our very untimely April snowstorm of yesterday, I looked out on my snow-covered yard at the birds trying to find some food. Tiny Juncos were hopping around and flying in and out of our trees, looking for safe harbor, for food, for warmth, and for signs of humanity just like the boys on that beach.
I went and fed the birds. It gave me hope. I needed it as much as I needed to see the ray of sunshine this morning.