Friday, 11 November 2011
Repost - Silence Is Golden
This was first published last year, and I have been asked to post it again, today on 11/11/11 - a Remembrance Day made all the more poignant by the unique date. Lest We Forget.....
Yesterday I attended my first Remembrance Service at Akrotiri
I’m ashamed to say that, because I have lived here now for nearly four years. I could make the usual rationalisations- kids, commitments etc, but, frankly, these don’t really hold up to scrutiny.
The truth is I’ve always felt awkward, like a gatecrasher or an intruder to a private funeral, an imposter in a world where ‘Remembrance’ holds a significance I cannot and do not really want to understand. Never more than on this one Sunday each November do I feel the conspicuousness and inadequacy of my Civilian status amongst the souls that wear their medals with much deserved pride. And so, usually, I hide in the safe cocoon of my home, listening to the notes of the Last Post drifting across an eerily silent camp.
This year my daughter had joined the Brownies and was invited to attend today’s service in uniform. Her excitement and pride was such that I was my motherly instincts over-rode any misgivings of my own and so, on a bright sunny Sunday morning she and I strolled peacefully to the Akrotiri Chaplaincy Centre to join the masses of military and civilian folk united in their desire to commemorate the casualties of war.
We were greeted with the humbling sight of a multitude of men and women in their full military regalia, caps and shoes shining, buttons glinting. But what shone the most was the air of quiet honour and pride that each wore. The scene was breathtaking in its dignity.
As the service began, to the objective eye and ear it was like many others I have attended, the same hymns were sung as I have heard at countless civilian ceremonies before; the readings were not unique; the wreaths looked like the many hundreds I have witnessed placed at cenotaphs and church altars.
It was when I looked around the congregation that I finally understood the gravity and austerity of the day.
Previous ceremonies I have attended – at school, at church, as a Brownie or Guide always followed the same format. Old men bearing long forgotten medals and a sense of tired wistfulness would hover at the back of the crowds as the only reminder of the reason we laid the wreaths. The two minute silence would begin with good intentions, but I would soon find myself shuffling or fidgeting, my mind wandering to trivial matters, mental shopping lists, easily distracted by small noises or movements.
When the time came to hold our tongues and thoughts for the trifling 120 seconds I was overwhelmed by a new and disturbing emotion. Looking around the crowds I saw strong men and women with reddened eyes and constricted throats, battling against demons I couldn’t comprehend. Not for them the distant memory of battles consigned to the history books. Not for them the honour and glory, that age old lie used to soften and justify the atrocities of war.
Amongst these good people stood those who had witnessed first-hand the living hell of conflict.
I am sure some were remembering good friends and comrades whose lives were cruelly torn away. Among them, too, were, no doubt, those whose loved ones were, that very moment, battling against an unpredictable and remorseless enemy whilst they stood to attention under the bright blue Sunday morning skies. What was in their thoughts? How did they maintain their inner strength and show such a united front of compassion and solidarity? It was humbling to witness.
So in those two minutes, I gave my thanks.
Thanks to those heroes and heroines that we commemorated that day.
Thanks for the fact that, through their bravery and selflessness I possessed the freedom to live in safety.
And thanks that my eyes had finally been opened to the truth, no matter how painful, that wars still rage on and the list of lost souls will grow longer with every year. But that as long as they have the courage to fight, so will grow too the indestructible force of human spirit as epitomised by the silent souls I had the honour to stand amongst that day.
We WILL remember them.