You'll see that I'm running a few weeks behind myself. But rest assured, I've been doing new things. Earlier in the month, for example, I visited the National Memorial Arboretum, just a few miles up the road from
Lichfield. To be totally honest, I've been before, but it was10 years ago when it was little
more than a muddy field full of saplings.
This time was able to go and look at the Wall of Remembrance, which commemorates those who have died in the service of this country since the end of the Second World War. As I walked I kept thinking So many names, so many names! all the time knowing how tiny that number was compared with the incalculable unbearable length of wall that would be required to list the dead of the First and Second World Wars. And then you round a bend and the wall is blank. Smooth empty stone as far as the eye can see, curving away out of sight, waiting for more names. It's this that gets everyone. Ask anyone who's been there, and this is what they whisper: The Blank Wall...
Part of the strength of this monument is its restraint. There are no panels to interpret this moment for you, no Bible verses, no précis of some humanist agenda. It is left to the visitor to make the connections. For those attuned to the hope of the resurrection, this may feel like an omission, but it makes the National Arboretum a more hospitable place to people of all faiths and none, as we say these days. And it is by no means bereft of hope. There is a gap in the wall, where (if the sun is shining) a ray of light will fall on the centre of the open space at 11 o’clock, on the 11th day of the 11th month. And somehow the combination of this shaft of light with the empty waiting wall says—when words fail us—all that needs to be said about remembrance.