Memento Mori

(for my father on the third anniversary of his passing)

‘I found myself on a field of war
A gun held in my hand
The enemy approached
I fired upon the man’.

‘He fell to earth like a great stone
I ran to see him fall
And when I turned him over
I heard the funeral pall’.

‘I looked into his glassy eyes
Afraid of what I’d see
A shock of recognition
The man lying there was me’.

“Any man’s death diminishes me
For I’m part of the human race”
The truth was plain as day
Staring me in the face.

‘Memento Mori’ said the saints
‘Remember your mortality’
Whatever you take from others
Doesn’t add to your vitality.

“Do not ask for whom the bell tolls”
Sounds from sea to shining sea
It rings for one it rings for all,
It tolls for you and me.

‘I closed the soldier’s eyes
Kneeling beside his frame
I said a prayer for his brief life
‘Forgive me in your name’.

My mind went back to Sunday School
Those commandments I once learned
‘Thou shalt not kill’ Moses said
The reminder had returned.

It’s one thing to be a soldier of the cross
In salvation’s awesome cause
Those soldiers are giving life
Not shooting without pause.

Memento Mori
There but for God’s grace
Each one of us could be lying there
In that dead soldier’s place.

My father told me this very tale,
With a tear in his eye
Of a blond haired Aryan youngster
He had to watch die.

It may have been his bullet
That cut this young life short
It may have been his aim
But as a last resort.

But when he turned the other cheek
Of this young German’s face
What he saw was a revelation
Of death and its disgrace.

They say that war is Hell
Unleashed upon the land
If so we’re the Devil’s minions
With blood upon our hands.

I think now of my father
On this veteran’s day
And how much he added to many lives
And the one he took away.

Addition by subtraction
Is not His gentle way
My father was reminded
On a blood stained field that day.


  • Katoikei

    This was a very deep moment as I sat here listening to Neil Young’s song ‘My Boy’. I’m in story telling mode and some years ago I bumped into an old soldier who sang me a few tunes on his guitar. Songs he’d penned and one song I forget the exact name, it was about a rose and it told a tale of his own horror at war. After he was done I asked him about it and this is what he told me. Whereas, I’d been sent to serve out my conscription in the Navy and missed a Naval Marine draft to the horror of war, he’d served in the Army. He went on to describe what it was like. He said that his job was to clean up after the bombers and that once they arrived at a place that had been bombed it was their task to go around and make sure everyone was dead. Then they’d drag bodies into holes and he said that it was a nightmare he could not wish on another and the only comfort he felt was in the beauty of what surrounded this nightmare. I walked out of his house into the cold blackness of night under a full sky of stars and carried with me the horror of war and it further cemented my resolve to avoid it at all costs. Daresay, I am beating a drum that others have beaten louder and clearer. Thanks for the deep thoughts. Peace, K.

  • Ward Parkinson

    Thanks for this Ben. Personal and poignant. An uncle I never met lies buried in Europe. Was he courageous? No doubt. Is he a hero? I’d say more a victim of a philosophy of political justice that seeks to correct violence with more of the same. An vicious circle bordering on madness. We are hopelessly ill-equipped to handle vengeance. Only Jesus will mete out justice, and will do so perfectly.
    We too often see our folly too late, in the face of the dead.
    – Ward