In a timely manner, I finished The Storyteller from Jodi Picoult – her latest novel – the night before the commemoration of D-Day.
Although the book has little to do with the liberation of the occupied European countries by the Allies, it is a haunting and uplifting story about punishment, justice and forgiveness, set in contemporary New Hampshire, decades after World War II and yet charged with the aftermaths of this brutal period of time.
I grew up in Normandy, and June 6 is D-Day for everyone there.
What happened on the beaches of Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold, and Sword when the Allies gave their historic assault against the Germans remains very much alive along the Normandy coast. In the smallest villages, monuments, cemeteries, and memorials remind us of this period of history.
But for me, my parents incarnate this memory.
Although young during the war, they never forgot the war and D-Day.
My mother remembers of the deafening noise and of the brutal loss of her young uncle shot by the Germans as the Allies entered her village.
My father recalls the sea, which remained red for days.
As a kid growing up between two parents who had lived through the fears and privations of the war and the jubilant liberation of France – chocolate, chewing gum, and cigarettes, included – I had no choice but to embrace their eternal gratitude toward the Allies, and especially the Americans who liberated their small villages.
In a natural way, my parents had a harder time with the Germans. Although they didn’t oppose the fact that I took German in middle school, they didn’t like it when I practiced my vocabulary out loud. And they initially said no to a German pen pal. For me and my friends World War II was old news. Not for our parents and grandparents.
French and German presidents worked hard at rebuilding friendship and restore trust.
It was as hard for my parents. But one summer as we were camping along the Atlantic coast I met young German boys and girls. My parents watched us talk and laugh, and things changed.
Although they never set foot in Germany but came several times to the U.S, the main reason is my family who lives in the States and not their reluctance toward the German people.
Does it mean that they forgave the Germans who stole four years of their childhood?
“I won’t forget the war,” my mom said when I asked her. “Neither the Germans. But you must move on in order to live.”
“You cannot live in perpetual resentment,” my father agreed.
Anne Lamott has a lovely and perfect definition – hasn’t she plenty? – for forgiveness.
“Forgiveness,” she writes, “means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.”
As for my parents, when they stopped calling the Germans all kinds of names and said yes to a German pen pal and didn’t mind the song 99 LuftBallons, that I played 24/7 when the same pen pal sent it from Germany, I knew they had both reached forgiveness and also understood that past should not dictate future.
I have never seen any picture of my parents on D-Day.
I imagine my mother with the face of a lovely teenage girl and my father with the winning smile of a handsome boy.
Allies who landed in France on D-Day are now in their late 80s and 90s. Among them many are Americans.
And I am indebted to my parents who showed me what forgiveness looks like.
And it’s never as easy as it seems.