Silent remembrance

There was a 3 minute silence observed today to remember the 150,000 killed by tsunami in SE Asia.

Stock exchanges stopped trading, cars remained motionless in the streets of Stockholm, and mourners stood shoulder to shoulder in Paris. Flags flew at halfmast in UK, and even the royal household observed the silence.

As always, there were a few voices of disquiet. Why silence? What does observing silence achieve? Isn't observing silence just a symbolic show of sympathy? Isn't bringing everything to a stand-still adding further to the economic losses incurred in the tragedy? Some have even gone as far as questioning the length of silence - why a 3 minute silence for people in a remote part of the world, when there is only a 2 minute silence observed in the memory of hundreds of thousands who lost their lives in World War II?

So why do we really observe silence? What does it achieve? How did the tradition start?

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 the guns of Europe fell silent. After four years of the most bitter and devastating fighting, The Great War was finally over. The Armistice was signed at 5am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France on November 11, 1918. Six hours later, at 11am, the war ended.

The first Remembrance Day was conducted in 1919 throughout Britain and the Commonwealth. Originally called Armistice Day, it commemorated the end of hostilities the previous year. It came to symbolise the end of the war and provide an opportunity to remember those who had died.

However, after World War II, the Armistice day became Remembrance Day to include all thosw who had fallen in the two World Wars, and later conflicts.

It seems the idea of observing a respectful silence was proposed in 1919 by Edward George Hooney, an Australian journalist, which was subsequently brought to the attention of King George V, who then issued a proclamation calling for a two-minute silence:

All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.
So there's the history. I guess two minute was just about the right duration - one would have been too less, since the masses wouldnt really have stopped fidgeting before the interval was over, and more than two would have been too many. Anything more and it would probably be a logistics nightmare - schedules might need to be altered, new accommodations may have to be made, and of course, the fidgety masses may not be able to observe silence for long.

However, this symbolism doesn't just stem or end here. Followers of the Jain faith around the world follow Paryushan, an eight day period of study, fasting and introspection, in a call for forgiveness. More than a symbolic silence, this period is devoted by followers of the faith to get rid of the un-necessary baggage that we gather in the busy worldly lives. Paryushan is a time to clear that clutter and make a bonfire to burn that junk, that rubbish, which is corrupting our minds, lives and relationships”. While there is no set ritual or service, followers will pray, read scripture and attend Jain lectures. This process of introspection leads practitioners to a spiritual place where forgiveness can come.

Now, that is an idea I can subscribe to. Conscious self-reflection with an intent to heal, mend, to include, to embrace, to settle disputes and to unite with everyone with no exception is true remembrance with silence. Symbolism, in this context, provides but a novelty break at best.

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