Mothers’ Vigil

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Memorial Vigil, Tréguier, France

Memorial Vigil, Tréguier, France

A cold wind snapping the French flag in the predawn darkness.

A harsh spotlight keeping the attention on the vigil. Do not forget.

Quiet, deserted cobblestone streets. The sound of the flag, its cord hitting the flagpole, and the rustling of the bushes are the only distractions.

War is failure. War is loss.

Like our own American memorials this solitary statue calls attention to sacrifice and loss, to duty, to service, to honor, to failure.

Failure of leadership, failure of greed for power and wealth, failure of values, failure on so many levels. A defensive response is required when attacked, as France was in this case, but it is still wider  human failure. So much waste, so much loss. Perhaps strength can prevent the trap of greed from producing these failures. It hasn’t so far. Humanity still chooses these follies. As if, this time, there will be a different outcome.

This singular mother represents all mothers who waited in vain for their children to return to their villages from duty during World War I. This memorial is in the Breton village of Tréguier.

I recently read ‘Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort’ (1915) by Edith Wharton. It was written in the first year of WWI and reflected an optimistic view of heroic young men behaving honorably in defense of their homeland against invasion. Edith was a famous writer by then and lived in Paris at the time. She was given unique access to the front lines for reporting and observation. She traveled with an ambulance crew and was given tours of front line trenches and fortifications. There was an eerie detached touristic tone to the descriptions. She described Paris in 1914 which had returned to near-normalcy after mobilization had sent most men to defend against the aggression. In that first year she was able to view the war and its battles from nearby overviews. She acknowledged and described the loss and destruction. But still it was prior to the worst protracted horrors of mud and poison gas and butchery.

And in the villages mothers waited. Men had left their mountain valleys or farms for the first time in their lives to serve their country. The outside world was new to them. Many never returned. I hope your sons and daughters are safe today.

As I stood by my tripod photographing this scene I thought about the mystery and futility and terror that people waiting in little villages like this must have felt.

It was still dark when the first car came up the hill from the river into the village. I could hear the little diesel engine as it approached and then the headlights came through the nearby opening in the ancient fortification wall and flashed onto the scene. The medieval stone wall told of previous conflicts. The car passed and continued into the old town section of shops. Another day was starting. Decisions were to be made here, and in all other towns. They have consequences.

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