You might have seen this heart-warming story last week. Joshua Dyer, a 14 year old boy from Herefordshire, England, was asked in school to write a poem for a local veterans group concert, part of the Remembrance Day observance this year. He came up with a short piece called “A Thousand Men Are Walking” that was shared on social media and went viral. He’s been on the news, asked to read it at events and even received a note from Prince Phillip who thanked him for “such a moving and heartfelt piece.”
It’s a beautiful poem worth reading, repeatedly even, and easily found on the internet. (That’s a hint to read it, if you haven’t already.)
I find it ties together several themes for Remembrance Day: the sacrifice of so many, the gratitude of those they saved, that they live on in our hearts, that they’re in a better place now where there’s no foes and no war, just a beautiful, tranquil place. I love this image he writes: “they dream of those they left behind and know they dream of them.”
He remembers. And yet, he wasn’t there, nor has he been where they are now. Still, he remembers.
It’s just my opinion, but I think it’s important to understand that remembering isn’t just about memory or history or hanging on to something we’ve experienced or been told. It’s more than that. To remember is to re-connect, to literally re-member that person or moment or experience and bring it into this moment where it becomes part of who and how we are, not in the past, but now.
Joshua reminds us that the dead are still alive in our hearts. We remember why and how they died and, reconnecting with the stories of those moments, I hope we learn something about war and the importance of, as he writes, “the path of peace they paved.” I also hope that we live into honouring that remembrance not just one day of the year, but everyday. Then, it will have become part of who we are and help frame who we will be.
He also doesn’t glorify war. Instead he glorifies where they are now, in the heaven he describes. There, they are also still alive, it seems, dreaming of those they let behind and knowing we dream of them. It’s worth noting, too, that he doesn’t specify who the “one thousand men” are. Only that they’re still alive.
Still alive. Alive in our hearts and alive with God.
There’s a slightly ridiculous sounding story from the gospel of Luke where sadducees (very conservative temple authorities who don’t believe in the resurrection or an afterlife, amongst other things) try to trap Jesus with a question about marriage. Using a Jewish law that requires a Hebrew man to marry the widow of his brother, they set up the improbable scenario where a woman’s husband dies, she marries his brother who also dies and so on through seven brothers. They ask Jesus who she’ll be married to in the next life.
It’s another face-palm moment for Jesus, I think, but it leads to something important. First of all, he says, the next life isn’t like this one. We might imagine it is, for our own comfort, but our human constructs don’t apply there, especially the societal structures that frame their near impossible scenario. Being in the presence of God is just that, where there is love and peace and contentment.
More importantly, says Jesus, God is God of heaven and earth. From God’s perspective, there’s no dead and alive, there’s simply alive, alive in heaven and on earth. God, says Jesus, “is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (Luke 20:38). Maybe our earthly view needs opening up a bit.
I wonder if that might not help our remembering this Remembrance Day. God is God of the living. Those who sacrificed are alive in our hearts and alive with God. We who are living this life, remember and honour them by living into the life they made possible, one where freedom provides the opportunity for peace, compassion, grace and love. Joshua’s “one thousand men” are walking in peace; “they do not march for war.” Perhaps when he writes “they dream of those they left behind and know they dream of them” we could remember the dream we all share is life.