It is fitting that formal acts of remembrance include a space of silence. From childhood I’ve thought of the shared silence, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and on other occasions of recollection too, as a corporate, deliberate and necessary act of listening.
Silence is sometimes, often even, more eloquent than words. It does us good to recall that some things are inexpressible. It does us good to enter into attentive listening, waiting and watching.
In this lovely translation from the Greek by Kimon Friar, the poet Zoé Karélli writes:
You must remain very much alone,
– quietness of the fragile movement,
anxiety of perception –
that the presences may come.
Do not be afraid,
the dead never die;
even the most humble and forgotten
exist, and when you are very much alone
they come near you
invested with the mystic silence
of the ineradicable,
the incomparable presence of man.
(Chryssoula Argiriadou), 1901-1998
Modern Greek Poetry, Kimon Friar
Politicians are undoubtedly public figures, and it’s in the nature of the profession they enter into that their political ideologies and opinions should be considered open to public scrutiny. But not, in my opinion, when they are engaged in acts of remembrance, public or private. No external commentator can possibly presume to know what is going on in the heart, soul, mind or body of anybody engaged in such a silence.
One British politician has been taken to task recently for appearing not to sing the National Anthem as “a mark of respect for fallen soldiers”. Questioned about it, the gentleman replied that he had been lost in recollection of the sacrifices made by his parents and other family members. And I believe that no-one but himself is in a position to say otherwise.
In the course of deliberate and necessary acts of listening, corporate or personal, “presences” are known to all of us. And – each in their own heart and in their own way, throughout life, “will remember them”.