I just can’t let today pass without marking it, even though the News of the World hacking scandal and imminent closure of our largest selling newspaper in a strangely incestuous way has grabbed the headlines. Among other important dates in the calendar, 7/7 will always have significance because 7.7.11 is 6 years on from the London bombings. I’ve had to search for a news article and found it in London’s Evening Standard: Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell paying their heartfelt respects this morning.
Of course London has to remember its grief when so many commuters can recall the horror and identify with the victims: it could so easily have been them, their precious lives lost in that moment of idealistic madness 6 years ago. Such a major trauma leaves a scar on the body and soul of a city – even though I maintain, it could have been so much worse and surely mercy was at work… but the body is usually quicker to heal than the psyche as I am sure the many victims who were badly injured will testify. So as is appropriate, tears have been shed again for the 52 people who died while families who needed no reminder have had another uncovering of their loss and pain. In addition, the juxtaposition with the successful bid for next year’s Olympic Games – which was announced the day before to so much joy – has again been noted: it was surely a morning when the whole nation plunged from the heights of victory and hope to the depths of sorrow and despair.
I don’t like the whole ‘spirit of death’ thing that can so easily be part of these occasions, but undoubtedly remembrance is important. It is right to pay our respects, to honour those who gave their lives in wars and mourn those whose promise was prematurely cut off in all sorts of atrocities. We need to recognise too the passing of the generations and our own mortality – in the midst of gratitude for and wonder at our own short lives. This is a sad world and we are all part of it – it is good and realistic to be sobered by such things – and there are always lessons to learn. It is not just birthdays that mark our lives: certain days are irrevocably marked, whether privately or publicly, as anniversaries of death – not a cause for celebration in the same way, until you have been dead a very long time perhaps! – but a reminder that ‘life is full of meetings and partings, that is the way of it’ as I have quoted before (A wedding and a funeral).
I visited a small town in Brittany in 2004 and came across this decorated memorial to 2nd world war victims: our visit just happened to be on 5th August, the actual date of both the liberation of the town and the death of 12 of the American servicemen who liberated it. My attention was particularly drawn because it was extraordinary to see non-French names on this memorial in the middle of the Breton countryside. The liberating party were unfortunately shot in the back by retreating enemy troops and in their gratitude for the sacrifice these young men made the local population had set up this stone to honour them – with ‘Remember’ written in English at the bottom. How poignant is that – joy and tragedy combined in one event?
There is often such a mixture of emotions at such times – yes of course sadness, but also thankfulness for stories of courage and amazing escapes. ‘To God the Lord belong escapes from death and our God is a god of deliverances’ Psalm 68v20. Ah… ‘So WHY does He not deliver EVERYONE?‘ – we don’t know the answers and in our grief there are often angry questions of ‘why this person, why not that person?’ and ‘why me?’ – perhaps even ‘why not me?’ This mixture is often the way life is, as in Ezra’s telling of the foundation of the new temple being laid: it is usually those who were there who carry the burden of sadness but whatever emotions there are they have to come out somehow – memorial occasions provide an opportunity:
‘But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No-one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away’ Ezra 3v12-13
Yesterday I went to the memorial service for a 6 year old boy. He was born to much joy about 6 weeks before that successful Olympic bid, having been even more eagerly anticipated than most babies after his twin sisters died in utero at 21 weeks. Yet not many months later it was discovered he was severely handicapped by an incurable congenital disease and his life expectancy was not much more than 3 years. The fact that he made it to 6 is a testimony both to the determination of little Aaron and the love and commitment of his parents: in their pain, disappointment and frustration they gave themselves fully to the care of their son, though he could not speak or move unaided. Their reward was in his brilliant smiles, beautiful expressive eyes and love of games and cuddles. He impressed everyone who met him and is mourned as much as any other individual would be: his, like every other, is definitely a life that counts. When coloured balloons were released into the sky at the end of his funeral a small, upside-down rainbow appeared overhead in the shape of a smile… an amazing sight! It was both Aaron’s smiling down on us from heaven and the smile of heaven itself and a wonderful encouragement to his family and seal on his tribute.
Rainbows are caused when sunshine meets water droplets. Tears are part of our lives, but within a loving, caring community there can be moments of sunshine and promise even in great sadness: we certainly know this more than most people (see The Man in Black). Our friends and family around us do make all the difference when devastation strikes and can even bring smiles along with the pain. In the same way when a community suffers, as London did and does, it needs the rest of the nation to stand with it, just as New York needed the world’s consolation in 2001 and East Africa currently desperately requires international solidarity.
7.7.11: today we grieve with London and determine that we will remember them.