Sunday, October 21, 2012

it's time to get off the beach

on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the men of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, of the U.S. Army assaulted Omaha Beach with the initial waves of Allied forces.

their landing did not go well. they encountered entrenched, well-fortified, and motivated German defenders who proceeded to counter-attack with the full arsenal at their disposal. the 16th Infantry Regiment was decimated, trapped along a narrow beachhead fully exposed to enemy fire. shocked, confused, lost, exhausted, the men who survived the landing found themselves by 0800 hours huddled along the Normandy seawall taking sniper rounds, machine gun bursts, and artillery blasts in a state of utter carnage and chaos. their situation, along with the Allied invasion, had become tenuous.

at that moment began one of the most legendary exploits of D-Day. 

George A. Taylor, at that time a Colonel of the regiment, arrived on the beach. surveying the horror before him and realizing the precariousness of the situation, he made what became one of the most famous quotes from the Normandy invasion: 

"there are 2 kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. now let's get the hell out of here."

ignoring enemy fire, he proceeded to walk along the seawall, motivating the men and organizing them into units. he then coordinated their attacks towards a specific target on the defenses. their attack worked; they managed to open what was the only exit off the beach in the early hours of D-Day, and allowed the Allied forces to move off Omaha Beach and take out the German positions.

it's worth remembering this story, not just for its commemoration of the experiences and sacrifices made by those involved, but also for the lessons it leaves for us.

taken as an allegory, we've all had experiences where the situation was grim. where things were not going well, where the odds were poor, when misfortune seemed the rule and one bad thing was followed by many many more. and as much as in hindsight those times may have turned out trite, there were also those times when it was not--when the danger was very great and very close and very real and very much meant the extinguishing of even so much as lives: including ours and those around us.

and knowing how the universe works, those times may be before us still...those times may be now.

and in such a situation, we may find ourselves fully exposed. shocked. confused. lost. exhausted. caught in the carnage and chaos of what life is doing to us.

and at that moment, we may wish for a Colonel Taylor to come striding before us and guiding us towards what we should do.

except that's where the allegory fails.

because in our lives--our real lives--there very often is no Colonel Taylor we can expect to come save us. no hero we can count on to defend us. no one else we can rely on to help us. there is instead so often, very often, too often, just us. and so often, very often, too often, others who depend on us.

but it's then that we need to remember Colonel Taylor's quote.  we need to remember what he said.

more than that, we need to remember what he meant.

because what he realized was what we know, each one deep down inside of us, in the core of our being that holds everything we are, but which we do not yet comprehend is our one true answer: 

there is nobody coming to save us. there is nobody except ourselves. and if all we do is nothing, if all we do is stay where we are, paralyzed, in fear, in despair, in turmoil, in pain, in suffering, then the only fate that is left to us is to be devoured by the afflictions that torment us. if we are to have a chance, any chance, of survival, then we have to look to ourselves to face our suffering and do whatever we can with whatever we have in whatever way we are able to act and move and do and advance and proceed forward.

even if it means crawling along the sand one inch at a time.

because crawling means a chance of survival. crawling means a chance of life. crawling means a chance of hope.

and because there are only 2 kinds of people who are staying on the beach: those that are dead, and those that are going to die.

it's time to get off the beach.

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