Friday July 7, 2006
Today at noon, a two minute silence will be observed across the United Kingdom, in memory of the fifty two people who died in the July 7 th bombings in London in 2005.
The ritual of two minute silence (or one minute in certain cases) can be traced back to the Australian journalist Edward George Honey, who in 1919 in the London Evening News suggested a silence to remember those fallen in the First World War. The idea was approved, and a proclamation was issued by king George V (see the article here).
The king’s proclamation contained the following words: “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.” The ritual has continued on Remembrance Day, a curiously ambivalent annual event celebrated by Church, state and military representatives, one that hovers queasily somewhere on the borderline between glorification (George’s “glorious dead”) and genuine sorrow.
For myself, I can’t help but feel unease at such public rituals. I recall the national two minutes of silence held here in the UK after the terrible events of September 11 th 2001, and how as I stood there, I could sense the terrible logic of the thing. The following day, the newspaper headlines read “A Nation United in Grief”. It was not long before we were – all too predictably – being asked to be united in the pursuit of belligerence and war.
It is appropriate, no doubt, to grieve at the sufferings that we inflict upon each other. It is appropriate because, contrary to George V’s proclamation, death is not glorious. It is sorrow, loss, separation, a rupture in the world. We may well grieve. But when such grief is linked the agendas of this or that tribe, then my uneasiness grows. Both suffering and the potential for cruelty are common to us all as human beings, regardless of which nation, tribe, race, religion of doctrine we may belong to.
Is it possible to grieve on an occasion such as this, without that grief falling into a kind of belligerent tribalism? And when twelve o’ clock comes around, when we stop our work and wait for one hundred and twenty seconds, will the drums of war also stop beating? Will these two minutes grant a little respite amid the endless cycle of violence? Or will they provide yet further fuel?
I do not know.
- * *
Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
seen & unseen,
near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart.
Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.
As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.
With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without enmity or hate.
(Karaniya Metta Sutta trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu )
Read the Wikipedia article on silence
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