Life After Death

Comrades remain comrades, said an American pilot, even after they fall.

A century later, along the western front, a graveside memorial (Michael St. Maur Sheil)

In peacetime, death seems a vitally important thing, to be spoken of with awe and to be dreaded, perhaps as the end of the game, if you chance to be a materialist.

All that is changed now. You go to Paris on leave, you spend two or three days delightfully with Bill or Jim or Harry, a very dear friend, also in on leave from his battery, regiment, or squadron. A week later someone runs up to you with a long face. “Bill got crowned on Thursday” he says; “joined a [German] patrol by mistake and brought down before he saw the crosses. Poor old cuss.” You sigh, thinking of the pleasant hours you have passed with Bill—your long talks together, his curious and interesting kinks of outlook, the things which make personality, make one human being different from another. Somehow your thoughts don’t dwell on his death as they would in peacetime—a week or a month later your mind has not settled into taking for granted his nonexistence. Next time you visit Paris, you hasten to his former haunts—half expecting to find him absorbing a book and expounding his peculiar philosophy.

Is there a life after death? Of course there is—you smile a little to yourself to think you could ever have believed otherwise. This, I am confident, is common experience nowadays. The belief that individuality ceases, that death is anything but a quick and not very alarming change, is too absurd to hold water. It is a comforting thought and gives men strength to perform duties and bear losses which in ordinary times would come hard.