A Mourning in Amiens - Briana Gervat
In Amiens there is a cathedral with a spire that soars so high that if you stand in front of it long enough it becomes difficult to tell where the earth ends and where heaven begins.
It is only the beginning of September, but there is a chill in the air and my breath can be seen before me; a hint that soon summer will end. The morning light creeps in from the east, turning the white stones a golden pink. It is still early but the church is open for morning devotions. Silently I slip through the red door, bringing my fingers to my forehead, my heart, and my shoulders in immeasurable gratitude and grace. I have come to walk the labyrinth before leaving Amiens, but chairs filled the space and the altar, only yesterday sparsely decorated with orchids, is full of flowers: vibrant wreaths and bouquets that mirror the beauty of the stained-glass windows that they are surrounded by. Today, there is to be a funeral. A man sits alone in the front row, his arms crossed, his head bowed, he does not look at the photograph before him of a man of similar age. Maybe it is his brother, his friend.
Not wanting to intrude, I go outside and sit on the steps of the square and watch as a crowd gathers. They stand, shoulder to shoulder, offering their condolences. A stranger next to me reveals that the man who has died was the President of the local cycling and hiking club who was much loved by all who knew him.
A motorcade arrives, bearing the family and the body of the dearly departed. A woman, who could only be his wife, steps out of the car and into the arms of her children and grandchildren. She wails, filling the empty space with her grief, the sounds of her sobs muffled in the embrace of those who hold her close.
I do not know these people, we have never met and still, I cry. All of the sorrow that I had held onto for the past two years pours out of me in tears that I do not even try to stop or hide.
The bells ring out, echoing across the city, as the casket is carried up the stairs. Behind, the family follows; a slow procession of life and death. As the family takes one slow step after another, the men and women who stand on either side of the stairs raise up the tires to their bicycles and their walking sticks, in tribute to their fallen friend.
And then silence falls upon the square as they enter to say final goodbyes. And in this silence, I know better than to ask for whom the bells tolls. It tolls for thee.
Briana Gervat is a writer and a photographer based in St. Simons Island, Georgia. In August of 2022, she traveled to France to walk the Western Front where she experienced this moment in Amiens. This is a work of nonfiction.