Culture Military

Moments of Silence

“Everyone outside, formation! Let’s go!” Everyone in the Bagram JOC hopped to their feet and moved toward the door, many moaning and sighing over being forced to leave their work. Everyone stood to, however, fully understanding the significance of the moment. It was September 11th, 2014; thirteen years had passed since the attack that had brought the men and women there together.

Few soldiers love standing in formation. Having to do so overseas was particularly uninspiring for most members of special operations and their support, being so mission focused that these old formalities often felt annoying. As we stood together that day, and listened to the task force commander remind us why we were there, and what it had cost to come that far, the inconvenience lifted from the air, replaced by a solemnity and reflection on the roads behind and before us.

The ceremony concluded with a long moment of silence. Each individual’s thoughts were of course unique, likely filled with a mixture of fallen friends, distant family, and images of national solidarity as we held in our minds that fateful day and all it had wrought in the years that followed. Replacing our headgear, we again took our posts and resumed the fight, but with a new state of mind. All the noise and bullshit was washed away, our heads were clear, the mindful moment had brought us all back to center.

Now, more than 4 years later, knowing that on Veterans Day my brothers and sisters who still serve likely conducted a similar ceremony before the same flagpole, I continue to take the time to reflect on my life, the role the Army and my brothers who wear the Ranger Scroll had in it, and where we are as a country. I try to take time as often as possible to be silent and mindful.

It is in that context that I found an article, by Joanna Scutts, on the origins of the moment of silence. Like Veterans Day, the ritual was birthed from World War One, when the mayor of Cape Town lost a son in the fighting, and incorporated the ritual into the daily time-keeping cannon shot. It later became the Silence, a two-minute suspension in memoriam of the war, by proclamation of the British Crown.

Scutts’ article comments on the juxtaposition of the collective experience and thought of mass silence, with the individual experience of the moment. She praises the “personal, imaginative connection between past and present” that a moment of silence allows. In the moment of silence I observed with my brothers and sisters in 2014, and in many others I shared while serving, it was often less imaginative and more personal, but certainly a merging of the individual with the collective group that brought us together.

I would add to Scutts’ thoughts that collective moments of silence seem especially important today, in the breakneck speed of the modern economy. So much of our lives are designed to “optimize” and “maximize” the way we spend our time in order to produce more and more. It is this engine that drives the country and, good or bad, it is easy to be lost in the day’s priorities and our own lives and daily realities. It can be difficult to gather a company or group for a moment together; even when done, most attendees are still on their mobile devices.

In a world where even mindful meditation is being co-opted as a means to increase business productivity, it feels important to maintain solemn, intentional time that not only emphasizes reverence and remembrance, but collective purpose. For it is more than taking time out of our days to stop and remember that makes moments of silence important, it is the very sense of being a part of a greater whole that invigorates and reorients us together. Anyone who has worn the uniform can understand that feeling, and knows what happens when we all pull together.

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2 years ago

Sharing 2 minutes of silence is a small but important part of showing out gratitude to those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms . RIP warriors

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