It was not for love of fashion or the macaroons that I went to Paris. What drew me to France was the art of remembering and honoring. What drew me to France was the writing of Burdy, trying to piece together her story. A character that is fictional to all except those of us who know her.
So I set out from the get-go visiting the great cathedrals and the ones lesser known. I lit candles and said prayers for those in need of them in every House of God we visited. Dozens and dozens of them. Burdy’s story, I knew, would take me to the shores of Normandy, from Arromanches down to St. Mere Eglise.
The trip to France was about the art of remembering and honoring so this was a journey of bloodshed. Utah. Omaha. Pointe du Hoc. St. Mere Eglise. Candles lit. Prayers uttered. Slow walks through white crosses. The cries of the wounded, the dying echoing across the ages with each silent footstep. The soldiers and their memorials I knew about.
The journalists memorial was something I happened upon.
It’s there, right outside the city where Burdy’s story unfolds, this memorial to those who did their fighting with words and pens, with paper and typewriters:
Reporters Without Borders and the northern French town of Bayeux inaugurated a Journalists Memorial on 2 May to honour the 1,889 journalists killed since 1944 while doing their job. Attending were the families of some of the dead, along with Bayeux mayor Patrick Gomont, local senator Jean-Léonce Dupont and Robert Ménard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders.
The memorial is a landscaped pathway bordered by 23 white stones bearing the journalists’ names. It was designed and built by French architect Samuel Craquelin, who won the French environment ministry’s National Landscaping Prize in 1995 and the French senate’s Heritage Landscape Prize in 2003.
Someone said yesterday, in the wake of the shootings at Charlie Hebdo, that wars are not fought by writers, unarmed. They were rightly decrying the murderous acts of those so-called terrorists who slayed a dozen people. Why would anyone target journalists/writers? Why would they slay the unarmed?
I have only witnessed one beheading in my life and that was one too many. It was the death of Daniel Pearl. How I came upon that beheading is lost to me now but the fact that he was killed because he was a journalist was not. When Mariane Pearl put out her book, I read it and wept. And I remember her vivid descriptions of Pakistan, the dangers of the ideology embraced there.
More stones will be constructed. More names added to the Reporters Memorial along the white rose path on the outskirts of the town set free not so very long ago.
I tell my students all the time and they come to learn the truth of it: He who controls what you read controls what you think. If you think, for there are some who chose not to read, chose not to think.
It is not true what that fellow said, you know. Words are weapons, every bit as powerful, oftentimes more powerful than a blast from a machine gun or a cannon. That is why the greatest threat to tyrants and terrorists alike isn’t the guns of others, it is Freedom of Speech.
Journalists like those slain in Paris this week, like those whose names are already etched on the Reporters Memorial, understood this. That’s why, despite the threat of death, real journalists and writers continue their efforts to make people think.
Truth is the light darkness fears most.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer University Press). The sequel Burdy: White Witch of Christian Bend will be out in September 2015.