When you have a job like I do, one which sprawls mercilessly across the week, respecting neither the sanctity of weekends, evenings and – when it gets really tough – the wee hours of the morning, you start to lose a sense of the quality of time. Mondays feel the same as Fridays; weekends the same as weekdays; holidays the same as term-time. Certain moments in the year, however, still feel special, are still more than just another moment built on top of all the ones that proceeded it , and for me one does above all others: it’s not Christmas Day, nor the last day of exams or the first day of the holidays, but a short moment on the morning of the 11th November.
Despite being fully aware it was about to happen, there was something awe-inspiring about seeing – as I did in the National Library of Scotland café on Friday morning – a whole room full of people (and on the TV screens, a whole nation) fall from gentle hubbub into total silence and rise to its feet, all completely unprompted.
It is remarkable, I think, that in a society so atomised and so individualised, each of us with our own never-ending list of things to do and troubles excising us, that a single idea is powerful enough to bring us together as one, albeit for a brief moment. In any of the other two minuteses at any other time of the year, 65 million people would be doing 65 million things, but the weight of history hanging over that moment – the enormity of the sacrifice that millions have made so we might live a better life – forces us to all do the same thing.
In a world where so much is happening and at such a seemingly unstoppable pace, the fact that almost all of us (except for those who have forgotten what day and time it is – shame on them – or those who are just plain ignorant – even more shame on them) will put everything aside and pause in respect for a few minutes is very heartening indeed.
I didn’t set out to make a political point, but one has nevertheless occurred to me, so here it goes:
There appears to be a general acceptance of the fact that the past couple of decades have seen put paid to the possibility that people can be bound together by some common sense of purpose or a common feeling, that the ties that bound us together in the past have been eroded by changes economic and technological and that we’re all doomed to scuttle along in our individual rat races, driven along not by grand ideas but by the need to get on and get ahead in life.
Moments like today show that to be an exaggeration. There are still moments in which millions of people – however individualised, however split off from one another by the nature of modern life – can be brought together by a powerful idea. The ties that bind, then, are perhaps not eroded, but just latent. Those in politics who believe in the power of ideas to change the world – and particularly those belonging to a party which recognises that we achieve more together than we do alone – would do well to think about this.