Friday, November 14, 2008

Eleven O’Clock Tick Tock

The ticking of a thousand million clocks, each inexorably beating to the same heartbeat… marching everyone into an uncertain future… as if anyone could - as if it'd be possible to resist its onward stride, King Canute-like.

Tick tock, tick tock… split-seconds leading to moments in time, minutes morphing into hours, day turning to darkness with sleep becoming a rare comodity as the sitting and standing and waiting merge into endlessness.

New meanings to the word patience circumnavigate raw minds, wracking and wrecking the grey cells with thinking… creative thinking… Is there / was there anything more I can do… or that anyone could have done?

Then… as the great grey dawn rolls back to be split by a shaft of watery sunlight, the far off sound of the whisteblowers…

Ninety years later, a single bell sonorously tolls, striking the hour - marking the moment.

Three of the last four surviving British troops from World War One, the war that was meant to end all wars, are on Whitehall… its overcast and they’re wrapped against a November chill in bible-black overcoats, their medals and ribbons blown by a slight breeze, a nest of poppies in a wreath on each lap as, in their wheel-chairs, they’re slowly pushed forward toward the Cenotaph.

In Greek, the word Cenotaph translates to Empty Tomb; the Lutyens designed monument that bisects Whitehall has but a simple inscription carved into the granite-like Portland Stone: The Glorious Dead.

With firmly determined yet shaking, numb-cold frail hands, the three service-men each slowly push their individual wreaths of blood-red poppies forward to a helper, so that their tributes to those who fell and paid the ultimate sacrifice may be placed among others.

The poppy symbolises the fallen; one of the very few plants that grew on the ripped-apart battelfields of Flanders after the conflicts that raged through Europe’s heartlands. Where, once upon a time, there was agricultural farmland where the plough-boys and the harvest maids roamed - came poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen - from a distance, transforming bare tracts of land into an ocean of blood red… each year, to bloom again, self-renewal from seeds borne on the wind.

While these three starkly simple wreaths are laid among among those placed by the supposed great and the good of the nation the reality is a little different… is it not that these three are the great and the good?

Three once-young but about to become prematurely-aged who, aged no more than sixteen at the time (which is a mere three years older than my youngest daughter is today), would have stood in the trenches summoning up more courage yet being sadled with more terror than anyone transfixed by their every move would ever experience or understand.

It is incredibly moving.

Because, these three very, very old-men are among only a handful of other survivors of that conflict left around the globe.

It is a sight that, most likely, will never be repeated... ever again.

As much as Obama’s victory in the US election was described as being of historical significance - so is this moment… but, perhaps its even more pertinent.

Because… cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Let that man, pray God, put an end to all war, to all conflict… Because, he, above any single other, has that power. And the power to use his position wisely.

Lest we forget.

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