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Book 340 - A Year of Magical Learning

Reflection Title: Survivor’s Duty!

Book – The Nightingale: A Novel by Kristin Hannah (Part 2 of 2)

Book Description:

With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France―a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.


Without spoiling the ending of this book, I wanted to provide a little context from the story for this reflection to make sense.

The events in The Nightingale take place in 2 unique timelines. The first timeline is following 2 sisters in Nazi occupied France during WWII. The second timeline is 50 years later where we jump to an elderly woman with rapidly declining health issues who is being looked over by her son, moving into a nursing home, and dying of terminal cancer. The woman is the same in both timelines as she tells the story of her family’s war within the war during the that came to define the rest of her life after she survived.

The elderly woman’s son was born about a year after the war ended. We are led to assume that the woman and her family moved to America and the child grew up knowing nothing of his mother’s life prior to his being born other than she was originally from France and has never wanted to return. The story of the mother he knew his entire life was incomplete, but he had no idea. It wasn’t until the very end of the book, as she approached the end of her life, did she finally share with her son all that she and their family endured and overcame during WWII.

Obviously, the dramatic revelation of discovering all that his mother and his broader family endured, overcame, and the lasting impact that their heroic efforts made on so many lives instantaneously redefined how he viewed his life, his mother, and his family as a whole. The son went from thinking of his mother as someone who was weak and needed his protection to someone that was braver and stronger than he could have ever imagined.

The son living his whole life not knowing the truth about his mother, aunt, father, sister, and overall family was the true travesty of this story, in my opinion!

Wars suck! I don’t just mean war in a literal sense; any type of personal struggle, or “war”, can suffice as an example. No one asks for “war” to show up at their front door, but often we have no choice. The main characters in this story were no different, literal war came to them, and they decided to fight, endure, and do whatever they could to try and survive. As Winston Churchill says, “If you are going through hell, keep going”. At the end of any war, someone will be left standing when the fighting stops.

Why does one person survive, and others don’t…I do not know. However, if they survive hell, I feel they have a duty to share the stories of others that are no longer around to share it themselves. Call it the survivor’s curse if you want, but I’d prefer to call it the survivor’s duty.

When I learned that this character in the story had hidden her past from her son his entire life, that was devastating to me on so many levels. All I could think of is how much knowledge, pain, heartache, inspiration, beauty, and purpose that had been locked away for 50 years when it could have been shared and transforming lives. This thought immediately made me think of my own son in Luca and the war he will never have seen that shaped his life. Luca will never know his sister Emilia. He was born 11 months after Emilia passed away. He will never have seen what she went through, understand what she endured, and what our family endured during her short life. However, Emilia’s life and death is the single most important event that this family will most likely ever experience together. It redefined our existence going forward. Emilia changed everything and her presence continues to be the guiding force in my life and will remain that way until the day I die.

Knowing this, I have 2 choices to make. I can either share Emilia’s life, story, and impact she’s made on this world with Luca (or any of my other future children to come), or I can bury it deep down and never let them learn about a war that we went through together as a family that defines our existence.

For me, there is no choice. I must tell Luca, and anyone else that will listen about Emilia’s life. He needs to know how incredible his big sister is and how she is still here to guide his life even if she isn’t physically present. She is too important, and the lasting impact of her life and what we all went through has the possibility to help so many people in this world if we can summon up the courage to share.

It is my duty, and honor, to share my daughter’s war with the world!

Question: Are you running away from the stories that shaped your life or ready to share them with the world?



What is The Year of Magical Learning? An Introduction

YOML Podcast Discussion - Coming Soon

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