Blessed Moments of Shared Silence

National moments of shared silence are opportunities for communion and transcendence, but no guarantee of them

By grace rather than planning, I was in Glasgow Cathedral at 11am on 11/11, the national UK moment of silence to commemorate the nearly one million deaths of The Great War. The cavernous building was empty save for a dozen or so tourists, most of whom, like me, had to be reminded by the presbyters of what was about to occur. Although the silence is two minutes by rule, those present stayed quiet much longer, clinging to the peace and solemnity like a dwindling but still intoxicating love affair.

In a different year, the moment of silence came when I was in Paddington Station. It was awe-inspiring in a less intimate but still powerful way as a myriad of bustlers came to a reverent halt.

These moments of shared silence are intended as communions with the dead, but they also build connections among the living. All of us, with our varied daily concerns, set them aside for the sake of a cultural moment of grief and remembrance.

I wouldn’t cheapen the slaughter of Ypres or the Somme by suggesting that national moments of shared silence be made more frequent specifically as a remembrance of World War I. But fancifully I wonder: Would there be some social good in the creation of more shared moments of national silence? What would happen if, even two or three times a year, a country asked its citizenry to take a few shared minutes from texting and tweeting and twerking to instead be silent together?

What would people contemplate in the absence of all the quotidian distractions? Would they reflect on whether they were living their life in keeping with their values? Would they pause to feel grateful for what they have and resolve to be more compassionate towards those who have less? Or would they just dread the lacuna in the otherwise ceaseless cacophony and plan their next stock trade or iTunes download?