Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Cemeteries

I was reminded last weekend of one of the reasons I love Luxembourg so much.

In fact, the reason why I love Europe, why this place fascinates me and keeps me curious.

Last weekend I visited both the German and American military cemeteries in Luxembourg. It was the fifth time I'd walked among the tombstones, but the experience had still retained its powerful impact. Geographically one five kilometers apart, but ideologically, at one point in time, limitless space was between these two groups.

You see, in these cemeteries sleep the men (or boys) of the second World War, mostly from the Battle of the Bulge, a fight fought mostly on Luxembourgish soil. One group, Luxembourg's captors, the other, their liberators.

From time to time, you'll interact with older Luxembourgers who remember the occupation. One host mother apologized for her poor French, explaining that during the war they were only allowed to learn German. Last May, during a Mass commemorating the liberation I walked into the small Luxembourgish cathedral only to hear the Star Spangled Banner blasting from the pipes of the organ. And there, sitting in the pews, was a generation who could remember a time when their country was not their own.

Today, only sixty years later, it has become just that, a memory that will soon join others in the annals of ancient history. The countries that once tore each other apart are in the same Union, vote in the same Parliment...I can only imagine how hard it was to take that first step. But now? Now there are new generations that know peace in Europe.

Last year the Dean wrote a beautiful column about just this: 

“One of the primary objectives of traveling abroad is to foster relations between peoples and people, and to hope that it will serve the purpose of a making the world a more peaceful place to live. There are people immune to the charm of the places where they have stayed for a little while as students. But for most of us, the magic works… Our challenges are different, even if the US, along with its allies from Europe and elsewhere are still fighting a war in Afghanistan. In these very different circumstances, one truth remains: something in us belongs to the places where we developed as young adults and students. And this something is the seed of future peace.”

Looking out at the crosses, bearing the names of young Americans and Germans, I realized that we live in a world where these are no longer the final resting places of the defeated and victors, but of, simply, young men who left this world too soon.

And I'd like to believe that these soldiers would be proud of their visitors, young Americans coming to learn, not to fight, in order to grow and to understand.

1 comment:

laurabelle said...

poignant and moving. thanks for sharing :)