I WAS on a Virgin East Coast train last Friday, when to my surprise a two-minutes’ silence was announced in memory of the dead of two World Wars. It was, of course, Armistice Day, but somehow I had not expected a packed train to be drawn into this very public moment of remembrance.
It was observed, too, at least in my carriage. The animated pair of female solicitors sitting opposite me broke off their conversation about school trips and Brexit. My mobile-tapping neighbour put his phone down with a sigh, and leaned back into his seat. A quite extraordinary stillness descended on the whole carriage, contrasting with the rumbling of the train as we passed through the sunlit English countryside.
Perhaps it was my imagination, but I wondered whether the intensity of the silence came from a sense of foreboding after the US presidential election. The known world is rocking on its hinges, and our most treasured values seem suddenly under threat, even as the sun shines and we go about our normal, unremarkable lives. Never has a two-minute silence seemed more like a prayer.
We were thanked at the end, and the normal chatter resumed. At Peterborough, the solicitors got off, hoping that their day out might include time for a visit to the cathedral. Two elderly women replaced them, bound for Edinburgh, and settled down to exercise their brain cells with Sudoku. I began writing a homily for Remembrance Sunday, but my concentration was broken, as one of the women opposite said: “The forces of darkness are coming. . . Don’t you notice how people are ruder than they have ever been? . . I blame Thatcher.”
Dread and foreboding are always around for human beings, but most of us in this country have enjoyed years of peace and security. Whatever our political differences, we have kept our faith in democracy and in the importance of civilised values. But both democracy and civilised values seem now to be under pressure.
Four middle-aged men in jeans and loud checked shirts had also got on at Peterborough, and I noticed that they had opened a full bottle of Macallan whisky, a box of Pringles, and a bottle of white wine. Large measures were poured into plastic cups, and their banter was getting louder. Perhaps they were on their way to the Scotland vs. Australia rugby match.
I wondered what state they would be in when they arrived, and whether anyone would care. I wonder what state we will all be in after a Trump presidency and a potentially chaotic and mean-spirited Brexit. The Christian faith is not for wimps. At least Advent is not far away.
The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.