Monday, 11 November 2013

Armistice Day

I always find the 11th hour of the 11the day of the 11th month a very moving two minutes. 120 seconds when, in theory, the world stands still and remembers those who lived in decidedly more difficult times than we do now, where the future was uncertain and how it played out was literally a matter of life or death.

Armistice Day marks the end of World War 1 where approximately 16 million people lost their lives and a further 20 million were wounded. These are staggering statistics the like of which the world, one can only hope, will never see again.

As I stood on Chapel-en-le Frith market place, in glorious sharp autumn sunshine yesterday morning, I thought of the key difference between the wars of the last century and those we are fighting today. Namely that, certainly in World War 2, young men were obliged to sign up whereas today it is a choice - albeit a courageous and noble one - to serve one's country. It is always the very young men that I think of during that precious silence: those that either signed up with glorified ideas of the concept of war, or those that simply had no choice. I think of those who died alone, cold and petrified, in wood or field, trench, sea or sky. 

As we remember those poor souls who 'gave their tomorrow for our today' I wonder if we have done them proud. I fear not. The very absence of such immense and intense conflict has spawned a generation who does not know the meaning of suffering, or perhaps, more specifically, sufferance - and we are all guilty of this. Of course we all have our tragedies and crosses to bear, some, sadly, so much heavier than others. But when it comes to the Collective, we are all, relatively, blessed. 

The two minute silence, in the middle of a working morning, is, for me, the most powerful show of common humanity that we have in the modern world. If the rush of our broadly consumer driven, comfortable lives pauses for just this tiny amount of time, it is a momentous thing. The silence of a crowded department store or a busy railway station for these sacred minutes is something to behold. It is a moment where strangers metaphorically hold hands and are, briefly, united. 

I was angry to learn that not all the teachers at the girls school wore poppies today and that the silence was not observed across the whole school at 11am, despite there having been an assembly on the subject. Whatever your personal standpoint, all sentimentality aside, I feel that the basic lesson of thoughtfulness and respect that this simple ritual engenders should be upheld in, of all places, a school.

My journey home earlier this evening was marked by two extremely serious road accidents: an upturned car on a dangerous corner and a crushed motorbike at an equally dangerous junction. The news, too, is full of the enormity of the natural disaster in the Philippines where thousands of lives have been swept away by the wild and unpredictable forces of nature.  Life is precious and oh-so-fragile. There is no time for needless loss of life through war. To reach the end of every normal day safely is, surely, a blessing in itself. 
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