On Wednesday, April 6, my tour group traveled from Angers to Sarlat, France, with a stop at Oradour-sur-Glane. As I walked the deserted streets of this devastated village, I was taken back to September 11, 2001.
I was in New York City that day, having stayed overnight for work. I walked out of the apartment building on the east side a little before 9:00 a.m., planning to walk to Chinatown. I remember looking up at the sky and thinking, “what a beautiful day for a walk.” I didn’t know a plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center; I learned that one minute later when I walked across the street and into the office.
Life changed in those few minutes.
On June 10, 1944, life in Oradour-sur-Glane changed for the village’s residents. I could imagine the residents waking up that morning thinking it was like any other morning, and then some 200 Nazi’s surrounded their village and massacred the residents and destroyed the buildings. Only one woman survived.
The village has been left as it was that day, a memorial to the massacre.
Later that day, I heard about atrocities in Ukraine and thought of the people there who had woken up one day in February not knowing their lives would never be the same.
The stop in Oradour-sur-Glane was sobering, and for the next few days, my mind was preoccupied with the evil in the world—past and present.
Other times when life changed in an instant kept popping up—the day Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer, the day I was raped, the day Gerry was diagnosed with leukemia, the day I learned my husband had been unfaithful, the day my cousin was raped…a parade of life-altering events.
I allowed myself to feel the sadness for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane and the people of Ukraine—and for myself. In the middle of this wonderful, month-long trip to Europe, I held deep gratitude for this opportunity to see and learn.
I recognized the parallels in France’s life-altering events and my own, and I came to a deeper understanding of the need to honor my past, no matter how painful it might have been.
France is still coming to terms with their role in World War II. Likewise, I am coming to terms with my own history. I want to reveal the secrets I have held and move past the shame I have carried.
Walking the deserted streets of Oradour-sur-Glane reminded me to look at my past realistically and to acknowledge what happened to me. I remembered three questions from a grief retreat I attended: What was lost? What remains? What is possible?
The words of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) have been catching my attention recently. He reminds me to dwell in the present and pay attention to what is going on in my everyday life, because that is where the sacred is waiting to be noticed.
In praying with Scripture using Lectio Divina one of the main ideas is to notice what word or phrase catches my attention—the idea being that that particular word or phrase is what God is speaking to me in that moment—and then repeating that word or phrase. By sticking with one word or phrase, I can allow it to sink in and glean deeper meaning. The Bible is so big, yet Lectio Divina focuses on the smallest part—just one word or phrase.
Ordinary life is like that, I think. Sometimes it is the smallest thing that brings the greatest joy—a kindness, hug, generous gesture.
I attended a memorial service this week for a woman from work who died in the spring. She was also a Zumba instructor at a community center, and her loyal followers wanted to honor her life by planting a tree and placing a bench in the park where she taught. One by one, people stood and paid tribute to this woman who had touched their lives by her upbeat personality, zest for living and generous nature.
Shonece had a beautiful smile and an easy laugh. It was not that her life had been easy or without suffering—she was a three-time cancer survivor, and during the first year of the pandemic, five people in her family died. She faced her loses and still chose to be upbeat and optimistic.
Tear flowed easily at this service—so great was the loss. And through tears, people recalled the simple acts of kindness Shonece had done for them. They talked about how her smile welcomed them when they came to Zumba and her spirit encouraged them. They shared stories of meals she delivered when they had family crises and all the simple acts she did to show her support for them.
I walked away thinking of another quote of Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Perhaps one of the luxuries of not working and having fewer responsibilities is that I have more time, space and energy to notice something and then ponder it. What I am noticing is that the holy dwells in the ordinary, just waiting to be seen and celebrated.