History Is Now

Imagine that you are a woman born in a country where war has been going on for 22 years. Your parents are poor, illiterate peasants. As you grow up, a dozen people you know starve every winter. On many days, you have to go hungry yourself.

You visit the only old man alive in your village and you ask him questions. “Was life always like this? Was there a time when things were better?” The old man tells you that, years ago, before invaders arrived, there was peace and freedom.

On your eighteenth birthday, your village is attacked. Your older sister is raped and killed before your eyes, but you manage to escape. That’s the day when you decide that you want to change the world. If only you knew how.

That night, you have nightmares about your sister. You wake up in the dark with your body trembling with fever. Then you close your eyes again, praying that you die before dawn.

Suddenly, you see a light above you. Did you fall asleep again? Is this another nightmare? You hear a voice call your name. Who is that? The voice tells you that you, Jeanne, will end the war.

“I am going to set our country free,” you announce to your parents the next morning. They shake their heads and tell you to drink your milk. After doing your chores, you walk to the village church and explain to the priest that you, Jeanne, are going to end the war.

The village priest doesn’t listen to you and tells you to go home, but you cannot be stopped. The next day, you walk to the nearby garrison and ask to see the commander. You tell him that you know how to liberate the country and put an end to the war.

At the beginning, the commander calls you foolish and laughs at you, but the fury in your eyes makes him stand still. “Take me to the King,” you demand. “He will listen to me.”

A week later, you arrive at the King’s castle escorted by four knights. “Who is this girl?” the King asks dismissively, looking at your dirty ragged clothes. “Is she coming here to beg?”

“My name is Jeanne, Sire,” you reply, “and I am the one who will end the war.” You hear mocking comments behind your back, but your determination has made the King curious. “I am the one who will set our country free,” you continue. “I have come to ask you to give me an army.”

“Send her away,” the court advisers whisper to the King. “She is just a crazy girl.” The King nods to a guard, instructing him to throw you out of the castle. That’s when you raise your voice. “If you don’t do as I tell you, Sire, the country will be lost and you will be dead before the end of the year.”

Astonished by your boldness, the guard turns to the King and asks if you are to be punished for uttering a threat. You stand alone, undaunted, in the middle of the room, waiting for the King’s answer.

“What if she is telling the truth?” wonders the King. He knows very well that his situation is desperate. Orleans, his remaining bastion, is about to fall to the invaders. After some hesitation, he gives you a hundred soldiers, his reserve troops, mostly middle-aged men.

You and your men march towards Orleans and scurry inside during the night. At dawn, you see rats in the streets. Nobody is bothering to bury corpses any more, since there are just too many. Those who are still alive have given up all hope.

“My name is Jeanne,” you shout as you climb on a wagon in front of the church. “I have come to set Orleans free and end the war.” Wounded, hungry men and women begin to congregate around the wagon. “Who is that girl?” they ask themselves. “What is she talking about?”

The next days, Orleans citizens mobilize their last energies. Stones are taken from every house in order to be used as projectiles for the catapult. Every piece of wood is turned into arrows. Boys pick up swords, women heat up oil. Whatever food is left is shared amongst all.

The decisive battle takes place on the tenth day after your arrival. Everybody able to stand on his feet takes up position behind the parapet that defends Orleans. The bastion doors open and the invaders watch in awe how a girl is leading the defenders outside, ready to fight.

During the next seven hours, defenders turn into attackers. Arrows and stones on fire decimate the invader’s army. What seemed unbelievable, happens. The citizens of Orleans crush their enemies. By the end of the day, invaders retreat from the area.

In 1428, Jeanne of Arc, an eighteen-year old girl, turned around a desperate situation and changed the course of History. Was her vision a hallucination caused by high fever? We know little about Jeanne’s vision, but everything about her determination.

Are you sceptical? Do you think that the story of Jeanne of Arc has no application to your life? “Crises of the past are long gone and our current problems are different,” I hear you argue. “We can not live in old History.” I fully agree. It’s up to us to write our own.

See John Vespasian’s blog