A Moment of Silence

How tragic! Yesterday the horror of the events as they unfolded at Virginia Tech University shocked us all. Painfully, we learned more information through the day as at least 32 people were killed, for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Most of the world will focus on this story, but today, in Michigan, we learned of an equally pitiful tale. We had an extremely windy day, and at a local elementary a flagpole sheared from the strength of the wind tugging at the flag. It fell into a group of kindergartners playing at recess, killing a 5-year-old child.

A fluke of circumstances in which lives have been needless cut short. My heart goes out to the relatives, parents and friends of the students of Virginia Tech. It all but broke upon hearing of this young child, thinking of the anguish her parents are suffering right now.

As bystanders, glued to the news agencies providing us glimpses into these incidents, it can be so frustrating. As humans we want to do something to alleviate the pain. It is why we see the outpouring of food, volunteers and funds in Hurricane destructions or Earthquake Relief’s. Unfortunately, this type of pain is difficult to help. No amount of money or food can reduce this suffering.

This is frustrating. These events are written in the past. We can pound on the dashboard as we listen to the radio, or grip the remote more intensely as we watch with aching anger, but there is so little that we can do to reduce the pain that is coming in the next days, weeks and years.

In the next few day we will seen (and have already seen) calls for prayer or moments of silence. This comes from a combination of our desire to help in some way, our distress at the inability to do so, and reverting back to the only safety net we know.

When faced with unexpected danger, or troubling circumstances, something in our mind says that home is safe. When the Northeast section of the United States blacked out, millions of people got into traffic jams with one thought in their mind—“get home.” I found it striking, in more than one interview with the students at Virginia Tech, upon learning that “something” was happening; their first desire was to get back to their dorm room. Home. Safe.

Even within our homes, we have designated “safe” areas. My children, upset with circumstances, will retreat to their area of safety. Their room. Home. Safe.

I can understand the theist’s call for prayer in these tragedies. It is home. Safe. When things are out of their control, and with little to do, it is place of solace where they can find security and stability in a situation that is anything but secure and stable. It is a feeling of release that at least they are doing something, when there is nothing that can be done.

Out of respect for the variety of beliefs, we will hear requests for “a moment of silence.” A politically correct notion to allow people to pray to their particular God, or reflect on what has happened. Infuriatingly, I have already seen complaints that a “moment of silence” is a useless acronym, as “silence” does nothing to help.

Yet, in some light, that is true. What benefit does it have for a grieving parent whether I take a moment from my schedule and set it aside just to think about what they experienced? Will this take away an ounce of their grief? Will they gain a gram of comfort, merely because I stopped typing for 60 seconds and reflect? What do I, as a naturalist, think about in that moment of silence?

Equally--will prayer help, either? I am not trying to diminish the effect of prayer, or bring out some statistical study as to whether it helps/does not help. But if there was a God that is so actively involved in the day-to-day events of planet earth that it would modify its intention at the request of a single human—such a God is well aware of yesterday’s tragedies in Virginia, Michigan and around the world. The harsh reality is that a person giving a five minute prayer from Topeka, Kansas will not give new insight to God that people elsewhere need comforting.

The moment of silence; the hour of prayer is primarily for us. It benefits us. It is a comfort for us. Perhaps, in small measure, it will ease some of the burden of those struck hardest, simply to know the rest of the world is taking time of their busy schedule to come together as humans and say two simple words, “We know.” Clearly we have not all experienced the same pain, nor have many of us lost children at such a young age. But we have all had tragedies—friends die, loved ones go astray, relatives become sick and pass away. While we may not ever experience the tremendous amount of agony others are experiencing today, we can share in a small portion, realizing that we have had miseries, and may in the future.

When we might want others to pause for a moment and say, “We know.”

Therefore, I will take time out of my schedule and observe a designated moment of silence. A moment to simply say, “I know.” And within that moment vow to do the best I can to alleviate the pain I see in the world. The pains from yesterday are too large, and too far away for me to help. However there are plenty nearby that I can reduce.

I know that may be of no use to those affected by yesterday. But as a human, it is the best I can offer today.


Anonymous said...

Let us have a moment of silence and blaspheme the evil Christian God.

Sandalstraps said...


Thank you for your thoughtful reflection. At the very least a moment of silence can be a sign of solidarity, which is often the best thing we can offer to those in grief.

As we get some space from the tragic event, we can begin to try to understand it, and work toward keeping similar events from happening in the future. But we do not yet have that distance, as so we take a moment to stop and be (in some less than tangible way) with those in grief, sharing in their suffering, suffering with them. This is the most human response.

Anonymous said...

DagoodS, very nicely written. I liked it, and will do likewise.

Steve said...

I agree it is hard to imagine the intenseness of others pain, however a moment of silence is a reminder of being human, and how we do care about others, that we should do more to help others.

When one hears of a tragedy like this, a part of one's self wishes to be there to comfort those who are grieving.

Anonymous said...

God is always here to comfort us!