General Fentiman was found dead in his chair. It wasn’t really his chair, but it was where he always sat by the fire in the common room. He always arrived at 10 and sat in his chair until supper. Until the day he was found dead in his chair, late in the afternoon.
It was shocking and sad, but not unexpected. A week and a half later, things became more complicated. There were questions about the time he died. If he died before 10:37, this time his sister had died, her heirs would get her substantial estate. If he died after her, his heirs would get the estate.
After much work, Lord Peter Wimsey works out an explanation of a death the night before. Everything makes sense, but the theory involves moving a body through a busy private club. That seems impossible. Until Lord Peter says:
“Wasn’t there just one period when one could be certain that everybody would be either out in the street or upstairs on the big balcony that runs along in front of the first-floor windows, looking out–and listening? It was Armistice Day, remember.”
Mr Murbles was horror struck.
“The two-minutes’ silence? –God bless my soul! How abominable! How blasphemous! Really, I cannot find words. This is the most disgraceful thing I ever heard of. At the moment when all of our thoughts should be concentrated on the brave fellows who laid down their lives for us–to be engaged in perpetrating a fraud–an irreverent crime.”
In 1928, the time of the story (and of the first publication of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club), Dorothy Sayers could count on everyone understanding that at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, everything in Britain would stop. The country remembered the death of a generation of men less that two decades before.
We don’t understand that. In our lives there is no time where everything stops and everyone understands. It’s not the same hour and the same day for “everyone” any more. Our connections across cultures and countries and continents make finding common time, let alone common ground, impossible. And it is not unusual for many of us to have connections with people who were, for our parents generations, enemies. Speaking in World War Two terms, it is possible for the child of an Allied soldier to be friends with the child of an Axis soldier.
All of our busyness and our confusion about sides may lead us to overlook the people we each know who, in spite of politics, have decided that protecting the lives of people they love and values they saw as worthwhile were worth risking their lives, and often, losing their lives.
We aren’t in the US good at finding a common time to be quiet in respect and honor. Today, at least, let’s find a common moment to softly say thanks.
To Arnold (dad) and Eugene and Gordie and Ken and Kermit (who I never had a chance to know) and Jerry and Nels and Ben and Chuck and Paul and Nate and Ken and Jason and Ed and Margaret and Brad and Bill and others who I cannot remember right now, thank you.