Stopping to think

Posted on November 11, 2011

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Today was like any other day.  Meetings in the office. The hubbub of the city as people made their way into work.  The clatter and clang of the tube train as it heaved its way from station from station like a wheezing old man.  But then it changed.  As 11am approached, people began to appear from out of their offices and through the mist that swirled around the streets.  Down at Tower Bridge, they made their way to the water’s edge and stood looking across the Thames at the opposite bank.  The arms of the bridge rose and a great silence descended.  Two minutes of silence to commemorate Armistice Day.

The silence was a great presence in the midst of the busy city.  Everybody stopped.  All was silent.  Cars were motionless.  A collective breath was taken.

The commemoration of an important day in a brutal and transmogrifying war has always been a mixed experience.  Whether it is ANZAC Day or Armistice Day, there has been a danger of in some circles of glorifying war over understanding the terrible toll it took on us all. I remember as a young kid being entirely alienated from the columns of old men marching down the street.  Where were the women?  Where was the recognition that war took its toll in so many horrid ways?  It seemed an oppressive and repressive way to acknowledge the past – tied up with officialdom and establishment.  As we have got further away from WWI and WWII, these commemorative days have become more poignant, at least for me.   They have embraced the experience of a wider number of service men and women. And more stories of the ordinary acts of bravery and heroism are coming to the fore.  The experience of war is paradoxically becoming something young people in particular want to understand before the generations that endured it are gone forever.

But today had a particular feel to it.  A grand silence in a grand city, poised on the brink of another unknowable but potentially very dark future.  A country still offering young people into the maw of conflict in many places around the globe, and for me at least, a sense that the collective silence was a moment for contemplation about our futures and not only our pasts.

For once, it felt the silence was truly a very special joining of minds, thoughts, hopes for the future.  A sifting through past and a reaching for something from within it.  Something which could give us all the strength to move forward into the unknown.  Perhaps the courage to take the next step, the courage to be open even when the times are going to ask so much of so many once again, and in new ways.

Two minutes of collective contemplation is a powerful thing.

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