VE Day. Victory in Europe. 75 years since Churchill informed the country of Germany’s unconditional surrender. Outside it’s calm and overcast. One of those shrouded, melancholic mornings which often find me pensive and questioning. Perhaps that’s what lies at the bottom of these musings.
Of course we owe a huge debt to the men and women who collectively brought about this event and they should rightly be remembered. But this day means different things in different parts of Europe, and did not mark the end of the war, which continued across the Pacific. Celebrations in some parts of the world, reminiscences of a different kind in many others. And as things are, the majority of commemorative events planned this year cannot happen anyway.
There is a new enemy, miniscule and deadly, and it attacks unseen across the world with scant regard for borders. At present it can best be thwarted by separation but it offers such opportunity for us all to come together, in spirit if not in person. There are many accounts of disparate groups collaborating to share expertise and creativity and logistics; globally we could, and surely should, act together to control Covid-19. But all too frequently it seems to me, we hear about the competition, the criticism, the conspiracy theories. At the micro level – at the level of you and me – we see neighbour supporting neighbour. In Britain at least, the wartime metaphors have been plentiful. The spirit of the Blitz has risen from its slumber. Will we see the Dunkirk spirit in full flow when it comes to supporting less developed countries tackling the same virus but under very different and more challenging conditions? Can Governments set aside their recriminations and points scoring to focus on what really matters? And when this crisis has passed, will we pause and take stock before we hurtle unthinking back into the world of cinemas and football crowds, gridlocked motorways and crowded commuter trains? Can we consider what has been learned and which of the changes initially imposed on us might actually be worth retaining? I hope so and I shall cling to that hope for as long as I can.
My thoughts return to the present. Eleven o’clock approaches. There is one thing that need not change.
I stop typing. I pause. I move to the window. And for 2 minutes I stand silent. It is very calm outside. I see the trees dressed up early this year after the mild, wet winter, not in red, white and blue but in universal, restful and infinite shades of green. I see the green trees and the green and pleasant fields and the sheep safely grazing in those fields. There are silhouettes against the clouds but the aerial displays are of swallows not spitfires. And the sound is of birdsong not bombs. And I remember and offer thanks and huge respect to that generation who endured the six years which in Britain culminated on this day in 1945 and contributed to my being able to stand here in tribute, watching the swallows.
I remember also, the countless others who’ve endured – and continue to endure – great loss and deprivation caused by the harsh realities both of humankind and the natural world.
There is so much we can learn from challenge and conflict. It would be nice to think that in the remembering of conflicts past and the battling with challenges present, we can take from those lessons and sow the seeds of change. From little acorns …
One day perhaps.
I can hope.
And in the meantime, as the afternoon passes and the sun breaks through the clouds at last, I shall raise a glass to this imperfect but beautiful world.