The teams stood either side of the centre circle, the match officials at one end of the circle and a lone trumpeter next to a giant poppy at the other. The referee blew his whistle and the trumpeter sounded the last post. The crowd of five thousand stood in silence for a further two minutes. Not a sound. Just the bright moon above us. The referee blew his whistle and the silence was broken. That’s how it was at Stockport County before last Saturday evening’s match.
The next day, Remembrance Sunday, we stood at the St. George’s First World War memorial to stand in silence. We stood there, a still point, as the traffic rushed by on the A6, hurried and noisy, a reminder of how frenzied our everyday life can be.
In both cases, standing in silence was a powerful, collective, symbolic statement and a time of reflection. But how comfortable are we with silence at other times in our lives?
We may associate silence with coercion and punishment: school detentions, an angry parent not speaking for days on end, a group of friends ostracising us by not talking to us, solitary confinement. In silence too we encounter ourselves, our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, what is troubling us. Such encounters encourage us to keep talking, to keep doing, to distract ourselves. Yet if we sit and breathe for a moment, we can experience the positive power of silence and stillness. We can learn gradually to become still. To be with who we are. Like all things it takes practice, repeated, gentle practice.
We come from silence and to silence we return. It is part of our natural state, but one that it is easy for us to neglect. The composer Leonard Bernstein reminds us that being still and silent refreshes and enables us: “Stillness is our most intense mode of action. It is in our moments of deep quiet that is born every idea, emotion and drive which we eventually honour with the name of action.” In silence we might also discover the power in the reminder to “Be still and know that I am God”.