In Memoriam: The Importance of the Two Minutes’ Silence | Jake Scott

The world today is louder, busier and more hectic than it ever was. People walk around with their headphones in, playing music so loudly everyone else can hear; and if they’re not, they are swamped with noise from every direction, whether it’s the roars of traffic or the hum of conversation, the distant train or the immediate bicycle – modern life is noisy. Even as I type this, in my home office, with the radio off and the street quiet outside, I can hear fireworks. I don’t mind this; a busy life is good, and busyness comes with volume. 

But once a year, we are asked to turn our music off, pause our cars, stop what we are doing, and stand in silence for two minutes, to do one thing: remember. We are asked to remember the sacrifice, over one hundred years ago now, of those brave men who died in the First World War, and the sacrifice of service personnel in every conflict since. The symbolism of the poppy is itself important, and other people have laboured over that issue, but here I would like to focus on the silence – because silence is difficult.

Have you tried recently to do nothing for two minutes? For our busy modern lives, two minutes is an age, and one spent mostly on our phones or watching television or reading books, but regardless usually spent occupied. Even when we’re not talking, we’re usually doing something, but to do nothing for two minutes is hard. 

Silence has a universal significance – think of meditation, or prayer, and what silence means for that practice. It is a chance for reflection, to pause and consider, or think deeply and honestly about something. When we enter a state of silence, we go through a number of stages: first, we recognise the volume and busyness of the world around us, and through that recognise the significance of our own silence, as if we were a rock in the wash on the shore; second, the significance of that silence leads us into ourselves, considering what we are standing silent for, allowing us to notice everything bubbling away in our heads, and in turn focus on the reason for that silence – the act of remembrance; finally, we return out of ourselves, and the new-found focus we have for the act of remembrance allows us to rejoin the world, but not the busy world of the here and now, but the timeless community we are a part of, and the community those we are remembering gave their lives to defend. 

What, then, is the purpose of the two minutes’ silence? To pull us out of our day to day lives, and think about someone else entirely, and join that transcendental moment that unites the society in which we live. It is wrong to call remembrance a simple act: the act is extremely important, complex and difficult, and we should not forget that. The act of remembering focuses our minds, allows us to put aside our own concerns for two minutes to consider the suffering and loss of service personnel the world over. 

This Armistice Day, I hope our readers will consider this, and join me in the act of remembering. 

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