I hear it all the time from our leaders, from our media. Let's have a moment of silence... for the cop killed in the line of duty. For the soldiers ambushed in Afghanistan. For the movie star killed in a car crash. For the victims of a terrorist attack. For twenty children massacred in the sanctuary of their school. And now for Mandela. Let's have a moment of silence.
You know, I could swear that it always used to be "one minute of silence." I remember, back in England, on Poppy Day, Armistice Day, the 11th of November, there was "one minute of silence" in memory of those killed on the poppy fields of Flanders; of those who died fighting in World War II. Wherever you were, you stood still, for a minute. In silence. But now we're reduced to "a moment of silence," no matter the solemnity of the occasion.
Is "a moment" all we can spare for those twenty children, these days? For a great statesman who changed the course of history? (For Mandela, it has been five days of media chatter!) Am I being too literal or pedantic? It seems to me to say something about the current state of our culture, that we are always in such a hurry that we allow ourselves no time for reflection--well, only "a moment"; that we ask of ourselves that we stand still, in respectful or contemplative silence for no longer than that.
A minute, it's true, can seem like an eternity if spent in silence. We are used to rushing in to fill silence with words or thoughts, to convert stillness into action. Silence and stillness create a space where our always busy minds are confronted with the challenge of having nothing to say and nothing to do--an intolerable predicament for minds programmed for constant thought and action.
The subtleties of our language reflect who we are as a culture, and it seems that a moment is all we can spare in the busy-ness of the world, to contemplate the fearful reality of death and the grievous absence of one of our own.