My arrival to France was accompanied by a strong sense of deja vu. I was perched on the uppermost deck of a southbound ferry, and the cliffs of Normandy seemed to appear like a ghost from the fog.
Although I’d never been there, I was certain I’d seen this place before. Then it came to me. I’d seen these cliffs before in the opening scene from the film “Saving Private Ryan.” The film captured the Normandy invasion of World War II with horrific accuracy.
In the moments before the ship touched the shore, I ran my eyes from the beach, up 150 feet of rock, until they landed on a succession of cement gun bunkers at the top. For a moment, I imagined these same bunkers infested with Nazis soldiers, and a barrage of artillery fire; I wondered what went through a young soldier’s mind as he approached this scene from a boat, with hundreds of bodies floating in the blood-soaked sea. It must have felt like certain suicide.
Then came another memory. It was a letter I had received a few years back while I was working at the newspaper. It came from an elderly Frenchman I’d met several years earlier on a bike tour of Provence. In it was a series of yellowed newspaper articles that detailed how American forces had liberated his family’s tiny French village in a time before I was born. The letter contained only two words scrawled at the bottom right of the page. They read simply, “Thank you.”
All of this seemed a clear reminder of why I was here. It had been nearly eight months since I’d detached from my normal life, just so I could attach myself to others. In my heart, my purpose was clear – to illuminate the fact that we are one human family; that we all belong here, and that every life is sacred.
When I felt the gentle tug of gravity, the ferry boat had arrived in the harbor at Dieppe. I packed up a few things, and rolled my bike off the boat and began pedaling west. As I did I settled into a gentle rhythm. I slipped past a scattering of villages folded between the lush coastal valleys.
When 45 miles had passed beneath my tires, I came to an overlook and stepped off my bike. I peered down at a medium-sized town, surrounded by a blue-green harbor, the water peppered with boats. Just up from the harbor was the city center, split by the spires of two mammoth cathedrals. I had arrived at my first destination: the city of F