– All the Light we cannot See by Anthony Doerr
It seems odd to connect the book All the Light We Cannot See with the violent war movie Hamburger Hill. One is filled with elegant and gripping prose. The other reeks of dirt, blood, gore, language, and nudity. And yet, a beauty resonated within them both.
All the Light We Cannot See is the story of a blind young girl, and a smart, small boy caught up in WW2. Werner is a German and Marie is French. Their lives touch for the briefest of poignant moments. Instead of getting down in the muck of war, Doerr captures haunting horrors in words of longing, and broken grace. You know all that is happening is gross, mean, and destructive, yet you are removed from all that by a prose that takes you higher. And somehow this lofty view makes it all the more terrible. It paints death with beauty which only makes the death more jolting, more revolting. Your heart weeps at the loss of innocence, family, goodness. You see souls torn more deeply by the careful choice of each perfect word.
Hamburger Hill is as opposite as you can get. There are no majestic shots, no moving music, and no quotable dialogue. All there is is a handful of very young men cussing, fighting, and lusting. They are covered in dirt, sweating, and unattractive in every way. But, as the movie culminates, beauty blazes through. It is seen in the worst guy who hasn’t said one pure thing about a woman, hugging the other guy who’s girl just dumped him. It’s seen when a Lieutenant weeps as his men are mowed down by friendly fire, when a sergeant explains why he came back to Vietnam, when race is sponged away between white boys and black boys cause they’re all dying, when a private wipes his sergeant’s face, and when a man holds so gently his dying buddy. Great tenderness blooms between these men as they attempt to fight their way up a hill for ten days.
Beauty is found even here.
Two stories of war, as different as can be, and yet both show a light burning bright in the darkness.
Reading/watching these back to back was emotionally taxing, and yet it reminded me of why I’m drawn back to war stories over and over. I love seeing the light in the darkest moment. I love the beauty that blooms in battle. I love brotherhoods. There is something magical about men who have fought together that we’re losing in our feministic culture. I plan to go down kicking and screaming. I will be a woman who honors warriors without demanding to be one.
I love these stories because they capture the reality of my existence. I am not what I seem on some level. It’s true, I am a middle class, white, suburban housewife. But, I’m also a saved sinner, a healed monster, and a warrior in the battle against sin. War movies are my unseen reality and my church family is my band of brothers. I may not want women to be forced into the bond of battle formed between men, but I can also be part of that great friendship in the spiritual army of the Lord. When I see them fighting down in the dirt, when I see two children suffering all that war brings, I look with my Christian-colored-glasses and see the spiritual battle I engage in every day.
Life is more than it seems, both uglier and more beautiful.
Sometimes as a writer, I lose my way. I forget what story I’m telling when I’m in the middle of plot lines, time lines, and commas, but movies and stories like this help re-align me. They help me keep fighting. They help me to pray for my family. They remind me to hug and hold cause I don’t know the battle my fellow soldier may have engaged in this week.
There is beauty even here.