September 13, 2007

my talisman

I've been home 7 days today.

I have flowers and emails and visits and care and love in abundance - and you never know where it's going to come from. Today it came in a tiny package in the mail.

The kindness of strangers overwhelms me.

A few weeks ago, my aunt and uncle picked up John and his wife Violet, and off they went to France for the weekend. Actually they went to Dieppe.

They went because August 19th was the 65th Anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe, also known as a catastrophe.

Of the 6,000 troops that landed at Dieppe, almost 5,000 of them were Canadian.

It was a ferocious battle that went wrong from the start. And by the time they made landfall, later than they expected, in full daylight at dawn, the Germans were waiting for them. It lasted ten hours.

The official death count was 1,380. 913 of them were Canadians. Two thousand more of them were taken prisoner. And only 60 Canadians made it back to England.

Two years later, the Canadians landed at Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944. And on September 1st, it was the Canadians who liberated Dieppe.

John, who was in 3 Commando of the British forces, was at Dieppe.

A few years ago I stopped over in Paris on my way home from my trip through Asia. I made my way up to Normandy because my Aunt and Uncle were there - and I met John then. My family was with him to commemorate D-Day - because, as you might have guessed, he was a survivor of those battles as well.

Well into his 80s now, he wanted to be in Dieppe this year to honor the 17 remaining Canadian commandos who had made it back to the site of that battle.

They stood as tall as they could in their 4-score years - at attention - some slightly bent - medals on their chests - hands at their brow in salute, still living the memory.

A few days later, after they were home, my Aunt took round some photos of their trip.

They were talking about Dieppe and Canada - and John asked about my Aunt's connection to Canada. She explained that my Mum and I have lived in Canada for a long time.

And she told him I was battling my own battle against breast cancer at the moment.

He asked her if I was English. She explained I was born in Kent and moved to Canada as a baby (not alone of course, my sense of independence kicked in long after the boat landed).

He nodded.

He got up and formally presented to my Aunt a small case. Inside was a pin in the form of a tiny stiletto.

He told her he was presenting it to me.

It is the Commando Badge of Courage.

It arrived safely on Canadian shores today.

And I am wearing it where my left breast used to be.

My first battle is over - a clean, straight, knife line - no pain meds - one night in hospital.

The thing about crossing to the other riverbank is that you miss the journey. September 5th I slept my way there. It's a journey my surgeon knows too well. She ferried four of us over that day.

So, this is the other side of the river, where my doctor promised me a whole lot more life. This side is still forested. I do see a path. I just can't see the end of it - although I suppose none of us can.

For sure, this was the easy part. This was no Dieppe - in fact I'd prefer to think of it as D-Day, but I don't know how the battle will fare now.

They say a talisman is something you hold to be a charm that will avert evil and bring good fortune - I've never really had one before.

I do now. I'm averting evil, embracing fortune with all my might.

A tiny stiletto - touched by a commando who survived those bloody beaches of Dieppe and D-Day - touched by a human who knows fear and has shared his courage with me...

A talisman of kindness.

The top photo is from the wiki page on Dieppe.
The Calgary tank is from here.


SusieJ said...

You are a strong woman. I noticed your blog was missing some posts -- I'm glad you're back, and I'm catching up. I'm glad everything went as good as it could have gone.

Nicola said...

hello susiej - welcome back from the lake!

yup - baby steps here...but isn't this commando guy something else?

Julie said...

What a wonderful talisman with a wonderful story. Nice recognition of the battle you're fighting, and I know that someday, battle successfully fought, you'll hand it on to the next person who needs its message of strength and courage.