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The Life Of The Dead
by [?]

The other day I went to see a woman whom I knew before the war–she was happy then–and who had lost her only son in one of the battles in the Argonne. She was a widow, almost a poor woman; and, now that this son, her pride and her joy, was no more, she no longer had any reason for living. I hesitated to knock at her door. Was I not about to witness one of those hopeless griefs at whose feet all words fall to the ground like shameful and insulting lies? Which of us to-day is not familiar with these mournful interviews, this dismal duty?

To my great astonishment, she offered me her hand with a kindly smile. Her eyes, to which I hardly dared raise my own, were free of tears.

“You have come to speak to me of him,” she said, in a cheerful tone; and it was as though her voice had grown younger.

“Alas, yes! I had heard of your sorrow; and I have come….”

“Yes, I too believed that my unhappiness was irreparable; but now I know that he is not dead.”

“What! He is not dead? Do you mean that the news…? But I thought that the body….”

“Yes, his body is down there; and I have even a photograph of his grave. Let me show it to you. See, that cross on the left, the fourth cross: that is where they have laid him. One of his friends, who buried him, sent me this card, with all the details. He did not suffer any pain. There was not even a death-struggle. And he has told me so himself. He is quite astonished that death should be so easy, so slight a thing…. You do not understand? Yes, I see what it is: you are just as I used to be, as all the others are. I do not explain the matter to the others; what would be the use? They do not wish to understand. But you, you will understand. He is more alive than he ever was; he is free and happy. He does just as he likes. He tells me that one cannot imagine what a release death is, what a weight it removes from you, nor the joy which it brings. He comes to see me when I call him. He loves especially to come in the evening; and we chat as we used to do. He has not altered; he is just as he was on the day when he went away, only younger, stronger, handsomer. We have never been happier, or more united, or nearer to one another. He divines my thoughts before I utter them. He knows everything; he sees everything; but he cannot tell me everything he knows. He says that I must be wanting to follow him and that I must wait for my hour. And, while I wait, we are living in happiness greater than that which was ours before the war, a happiness which nothing can ever trouble again….”

Those about her pitied the poor woman; and, as she did not weep, as she was gay and smiling, they believed her mad.

Was she as mad as they thought? At the present moment, the great questions of the world beyond the grave are pressing upon us from every side. It is probable that, since the world began, there have never been so many dead as now. The empire of death was never so mighty, so terrible; it is for us to defend and enlarge the empire of life. In the presence of this mother, which are right or wrong, those who are convinced that their dead are forever swept out of existence, or those who are persuaded that their dead do not cease to live, who believe that they see them and hear them? Do we know what it is that dies in our dead, or even if anything dies? Whatever our religious faith may be, there is at any rate one place where they cannot die. That place is within ourselves; and, if this unhappy mother went beyond the truth, she was yet nearer to it than those despairing ones who nourish the mournful certainty that nothing survives of those whom they loved. She felt too keenly what we do not feel keenly enough. She remembered too much; and we do not know how to remember. Between the two errors there is room for a great truth; and, if we have to choose, hers is the error towards which we should lean. Let us learn to acquire through reason that which a wise madness bestowed on her. Let us learn from her to live with our dead and to live with them without sadness and without terror. They do not ask for tears, but for a happy and confident affection. Let us learn from her to resuscitate those whom we regret. She called to hers, while we repulse ours; we are afraid of them and are surprised that they lose heart and pale and fade away and leave us forever. They need love as much as do the living. They die, not at the moment when they sink into the grave, but gradually as they sink into oblivion; and it is oblivion alone that makes the separation irrevocable. We should not allow it to heap itself above them. It would be enough to vouchsafe them each day a single one of those thoughts which we bestow uncounted upon so many useless objects: they would no longer think of leaving us; they would remain around us and we should no longer understand what a tomb is; for there is no tomb, however deep, whose stone may not be raised and whose dust dispersed by a thought.