We are told that the Italian government has imposed a ‘National Day of Mourning’ for the dead of the Amatrice earthquake. I simply ask ‘what is the purpose’ of that alleged mourning? Will it bring back the dead, will it salve the injuries of those who lie in hospital? Will it do anything else apart from an alleged ‘touchy-feely’ sensation that ‘we feel their pain’ or some other like-minded garbage? What will the flags flying at half-mast all across Italy actually do? To my own certain knowledge; not a lot!
I have written before of remembrance, of a loss so personal that, even after the passage of fifty years, I still remember the day my beloved sister was buried. There is a small North-Eastern town in England which I used to call home, despite working far away so long ago. In that town there sits a small Catholic church, with cemetery adjacent. Within the confines of that Cemetery lie the mortal remains of my beloved sister, who died at the age of sixteen from leukaemia. Her death shattered my Dad, who never completely recovered from her loss, and my Mum wasn’t much better in her grief. There is just a green sward where she lies; no stone, no winged angel, no border resplendent with flowers; because her face is before me as I write these lines. We three remaining brothers need no chiselled granite to remind us of our sister, and so it is. We three are now just two, with my eldest brother’s death some two-odd years ago. My brother died without my reconciling with him; we argued over politics, but I do so wish we had patched together a family bond which had been shattered, mainly because we were both too bloody stiff-necked to apologise. But that is my point; it was my sister, or latterly my brother, they were family; the sadness was real: it was personal. In my sister’s case, her school friends lining the route from the church were tearful, because they knew my sister.
The Italians who will no doubt stand silent in remembrance; what are they remembering? Strangers who passed by within a headline? One of the larger funeral services which was held some years ago in Durham City at the crematorium was not organised, there was no ‘order of service’, there was indeed very little ‘formal’ organisation, apart from the actual operations in the building itself. We all came to honour the service and the friendship, the fact; that a simple unassuming man had touched a great many lives with a simple honesty, a clarity of purpose, and an acceptance that his life was shared amongst many; and we filled the crematorium area to a capacity rarely seen. The presiding vicar literally blinked at the sight of the crowded hall, as he had never seen anything like it. There was no breast-beating, no wailing, no hysteria, no fuss; for this was an English farewell to an English gentleman in the truest sense of the word. His was a life of commitment, and this was shown by the number of representatives of all callings who came to give and pay their last respects at the funeral of one who would probably have blanched at the sheer numbers who sat and stood in silence. As for my dead friend, whose funeral was quiet and dignified, there were no adverse comments, because he lived his life by the standards which used to rule us all.
The disaster which struck the communities of Indonesia, Thailand and Ceylon when the tsunami hit was incomparable in human history, in terms of peacetime. Well over 250,000 died, many thousands injured, and whole communities literally wiped off the map. Nature has a ferocity all of its own; but what was the response of the European Union? They organised and required a Three Minute Silence in ‘solidarity’ with the stricken nations so far away. Yes, a whole sixty seconds more than the millions of the dead of two World Wars. I am happy to report that I did not stay still, nor silent, as I was shopping with my wife.
Death, tragedy, loss: they are always with us, but remembrance, that is surely best held within a heart, and should not be paraded as a sign of ‘solidarity’ for some distant tragedy!