Thursday, August 17, 2006

Instruments of peace

There were tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat as the bus headed into Stansted airport on Sunday morning. There had been nothing wrong at all with the journey from central London. The earliness of the journey had ensured rapid, traffic-free progress throughout the 75-minute ride. Pleasant music played softly throughout the vehicle. Passengers dozed or chatted quietly.

Why tears?

They appeared unexpectedly. It happened just as the bus pulled into the confines of the airport, revealing several policemen, armed and waiting lest there be the threatened attack that had caused the heightened security. It hurt to see weapons in the hands of a police service that has, since its birth in the 19th century, carried nothing more dangerous than a truncheon. The tears were because this sort of thing should not be happening in the country that I call home. The guns did not make me feel more secure: they made me feel helpless, deeply saddened and betrayed, less secure and much more vulnerable. I felt very sorry for our ‘Bobbies’, who also don’t want to have anything to do with guns.

Entering the airport with a marked degree of apprehension, one of the first things that I saw was a group of police officers, male and female, having their breakfast. They had removed their headgear. No weaponry was visible. They were relaxed and enjoying each other’s company, occasionally chatting to passengers who passed by their table. In fact, apart from their increased numbers of police officers around the airport, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the friendly watchfulness that I have known throughout my life.

I looked back to Friday and Saturday and my many hours of walking through central London. It was good to see the lack of fuss, the absence of hysteria in the city, the balanced precautions around Buckingham Palace, Horseguards Parade, Whitehall and Downing Street. We’ve been embattled before throughout many centuries, and have survived. We’ve learned to take things in our stride and to keep on going. There’s no need to get too worked up.

The milling tourists were uninterrupted in their search for good photo opportunities. Everywhere felt safe, familiar and normal… except for the one location that had taken security to extremes and which merely made me laugh with a certain amount of mixed sadness and cynicism. Some people create their own ghettos!

Strolling through Hyde Park and enjoying the last few hours before take-off, I decided to head towards Speakers Corner and a beautiful dancing fountain. As I walked, a policeman patrolled his beat, heading in my direction. He probably didn’t realise that he could be heard for quite some distance as he whistled a tune that I couldn’t identify. I thanked God for his whistling. He was at peace and he created peace.

It seems to me that peace and security mean an absence of weapons. They mean the freedom to sit and relax with others, the liberty to stroll through a park, whistling. It seems to me that peace is more than an absence of war, more than an absence of security measures that tell me Big Brother is watching.

God made us to live in freedom and in joy, in love and in peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

God bless,
Sr. Janet