Thursday, September 3, 2015

Saltwater and Gratitude

"The cleaning lady needs to pick up my kitchen," says my three-year-old daughter as she assesses her Fisher Price oven. Never mind that the cleaning lady needs to attend to my big girl kitchen first, but I'm suddenly struck with just how spoiled my child has become.

In a vain effort to thwart Princess Amelia's pampered upbringing, I  had her go through her surplus of toys and loot to find something to re-gift to the less fortunate. After an hour of carefully assessing each and every item in her room and toy boxes, Amelia proudly walks over and hands me a rectal thermometer. "I think Jesus would be very proud of me for giving this to the poor, don't ya think?"

We went on a little road trip this weekend, and by the time we reached the Palace of Versailles, I had simply had it. Who is this misbehaved child on the palace floor, you ask, refusing to move until she meets with the queen? Oh, well that would be my daughter, of course.

I did this. I take full blame.  It's hard to teach a toddler appreciation when I myself have become a spoiled asshole. I spend money like I live in a Monopoly game, and I, too, pout when I don't get my way. I'm a lonely, bitter, stay-at-home mom who keeps forgetting to remember how good I've got it.

On Friday night, at the second stop of our French vacation, I spent the evening slamming overpriced champagne and shoving euros into slot machines. Saturday morning came very quickly, and I found myself fighting off the worst headache on the drive to Normandy. I curled up in the passenger seat and closed my eyes, fighting off nausea from this wicked hangover. I was short with my husband and irritated with my daughter. I was exhausted, hungry, and fed up with Europe, and I kept thinking that I just wanted to go home.

I wish I could describe to you the profound shame and disgust I felt with myself when we arrived at our final destination. Thousands of white gravestones beneath a clear, azure sky.

There, in the quiet of the morning, where the tides once ran red with blood, I placed my hand upon a white cross and tried to conjure up a world where I wasn't free and spoiled and blessed. But I couldn't. 

I had this history teacher in high school--- he was the rare breed of educator whose lessons linger long after the bell rings; an innate, elemental ability to truly get through to those of us blessed enough to sit in his classroom. I could hear his voice as I stood above Omaha Beach; the importance he had placed on June 6, 1944, and the feelings he invoked in us when he taught of that monumental day.

So many of us have forgotten, myself included. I've lived in such haste and self-regard that I rarely think about things like D-Day and white crosses atop a remarkable shore. I'm from an ungrateful, spoiled, hashtag generation where freedom is simply expected and conventional. We sit behind computer screens and cry injustice that the world hasn't given us more. We know nothing of the fearlessness and valor it took to storm those beaches that June morning; the slaughter of the bravest of the brave as they sacrificed it all for humanity and righteousness and freedom. The offering of those men, some just boys really, who never got the chance to go home.

Amelia dug her hands into the damp sand of Omaha Beach; she was transfixed by its beauty on the calmest of days. The tide came in, foamy and muted, and took back with it my tears of guilt and shame. I was left there, ankle-deep in saltwater and gratitude.

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