As I look out from the coast of Normandy into the blustery water and deep grey skies stretching over from the south coast of England, I try to immerse myself in the moments of 6th June 1944, over seventy years ago, when thousands of Allied soldiers and sailors crossed over during the night to begin the largest amphibious assault in military history.
It's rather old hat, to be honest. We've seen plenty of films and heard endless accounts of the D-Day landings. However, as with all these historic events, you rarely appreciate them fully until you stand where warriors once stood. Or martyrs once burned. Only then can you begin to contemplate the overwhelming mortality of those textbook legends and History Channel heroes. Suddenly, they really are just like you and me.
So, as I return to my wandering imagination, I wonder, as I'm sure almost everyone who visits here does, what it would be like to have been part of that assault. How would I have handled it?
Would I have handled it?
Fear and Excitement are the two emotions that spring to mind. Then I think, in reality, fear would probably have played quite a minor part until literally minutes before the assault. And then would almost certainly have only squeezed in another few minutes before other emotions took hold.
Which makes me ask what Fear is really all about, especially as it seems we live in a society which finds itself in a state of chronic, prolonged fear, gradually crunching the life out of all worth living. For an emotion that prides itself on the self-preservation card, it doesn't seem to be helping us at all.
Fear has a clear purpose. We fear heights, spiders, the dark, Death. All things to be avoided if we are to remain safe. But then Death itself, the common denominator in all fears, is rather a strange thing to be afraid of, for the simple reason that it's difficult to properly comprehend what death actually is until it's happened. Perhaps that desperate moment before the executioner drops the sword, when there is sufficient calm for adrenalin to play no part, perhaps that is the middle ground between life and death. But it is very brief. And by then, Fear only hinders you and detracts from other emotions which could help you avoid "the end" for a little while longer.
So Fear is something that does indeed need to be controlled. It will keep us safe from harm but in the wrong circumstances has the opposite effect.
The men who recently wrestled a gunman down on a train in France didn't feel Fear. Those that came to their aid moments later probably had to overcome their Fear but those that were first to react did so, and so quickly, precisely because Fear was not the first emotion to rise within them.
The men who crossed over the Channel that night were scared. And in being so, they became heroes. For the marvelous thing about Fear is the opportunity to be brave.
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