How is it possible for an 8-page story written about two fictional characters that lived and loved and died nearly 100 years ago to hit too close to home?
You’d think it’d be impossible, but it is not.
I spent last summer interning at a war museum where I was responsible for researching a small group of First World War soldiers. I handled their medals. I helped photograph their uniforms. I sifted through their attestation papers, newspaper clippings, official dispatches describing promotions and acts of valour, and more. For the most part, these men were farmers, accountants, teachers, and the like. A very few were career military. I learned about the boy who lied about his age and enlisted at 16, the ones that transferred to the British Royal Air Force so that they could fly, and the doctor who made it his mission to save as many of the wounded as he could. I came to know the common soldier and the decorated commanders. I breathed a sigh of relief each time I found discharge papers for one of “my” soldiers, and became teary when I came across death notifications instead.
And I couldn’t help but think of the brave man who, at only 19-years-old, became the youngest person in Canada’s history to be awarded the Victoria Cross – our nation’s highest honour for gallantry. Wounded in battle, he returned home to convalesce, but succumbed to the Spanish Influenza and died only a few weeks later. It hardly seems fair.
I know that Teddy and Ben are figments of Marie Sexton’s rich imagination, but I couldn’t help but read To Feel the Sun
with the memory of the real-life service and sacrifice that an entire generation of young men made during the First World War. Given that lens, it should come as a surprise to exactly no one when I tell you that my heart clutched when I saw the 1917 date in the story, and that I was outright crying shortly thereafter.To Feel the Sun
is a powerful short story about love, life, timing, and the possibility of connections that last far beyond our last breaths. Sexton’s writing is beautiful, her imagery gorgeous, her characters and their circumstances painfully real, and she absolutely nails the shifting surrealism and logic of our dreams. Every word on the page felt deliberate and the result was utter perfection.
Read this story.