Silent contemplation

4th December 2015 at 00:00

I’ll hold my hand up: I forgot to book the bugler. So at the last minute before the college remembrance ceremony, I gave thanks to the god of iTunes and downloaded the last post. The community gathered at about 10.55am, the campus services staff poised to press the fire alarm and we waited. The alarm sounded and I pressed play on the iPhone, but the lead to the speaker wasn’t great and the sound dropped in and out. I wiggled the wire and we got through it.

We finished the silence with a bit more bugling and then a round of applause, which felt a bit odd but it’s what they do after silences at football matches so the learners like it. You could have heard a poppy pin drop during the silence. But the bungling bugle player did spoil the mood somewhat. I’ve already booked a proper one for next year.

It’s not the first time a college silence hasn’t quite gone to plan. On one occasion, I completely mistimed proceedings and we ended up silent for eight minutes. Halfway through the silence for the victims of the Tunisian shooting, a gust of wind caught the memorial tree I’d set up, sending it careering like aggressive tumbleweed into a member of staff.

But the spirit of the occasion is always properly observed and it’s a rare moment for the college community to come together. I’m always really proud of our learners and how seriously they take it all.

We gathered again as a college community recently. I’d hurriedly borrowed a panel of security fencing from campus services, printed off the word “PEACE”, found some white ribbon and sent round a global email. Someone made a tricolour from three pieces of A4 card stuck together. When the fire alarm sounded, we paused to remember all the victims of terror around the world, but especially those who died in the attacks on Paris. I tied the first ribbon together with a Muslim colleague – me in a dog collar, her in a headscarf. I was so proud of our learners all over again. So many of them turned up that I had to go and get more ribbons.

As we walked away there were mumblings of how terrible it all was. No doubt away from the words of peace and fluttering white ribbons, some of our learners and staff might have thought righteous retaliation would be a better and more reasoned response. People are caught up in violence and terror every day all around the world. When I heard the news about the Paris attacks, although I was shocked and horrified, disgusted and appalled, I wasn’t surprised. We know the threat is there. We knew this sort of thing was coming; it’s shocking but not surprising.

At the end of the silence in our college quad, one of the students turned to me and said, “Will we do this every time?” His words are still haunting me.

Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College. @revkatebottley

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