Motivated mostly by the lack of a wish to seem not to care in the eyes of anybody who might be offended (and how much more diluted could an impulse be before it dissipated entirely?), we filed along the corridors past unoccupied rooms, empty chairs at empty tables, and took our places in the large open-plan office, small clusters of people standing beside desks and water-coolers.
"It's about thirty seconds to twelve now," said the self-appointed organiser. There was a pregnant pause, during which people seemed to be unsure if they should be pre-emptively silent now, or make noise to throw their silence into sharper relief.
And we stood still, many people with their heads bowed as if in prayer, others looking furtively around the room, observing others' reactions. If I wanted to argue such things, I might argue that thinking about our reactions, and our relation to those around us, was a valid way of engaging with the event. That the imposition of silence allows a time for contemplation, insofar as such contemplation is useful, of what happened and what it may have meant to us and to others; not a tribute of any kind, because what kind of tribute is silence?
But we stood, and we were silent. For what it was worth. And what was it worth? A great big nothing: the 0 of a mouth that's open throughout an unfamiliar hymn, pretending to sing but not knowing the words.
Appendix: Further reading
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.
Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,
A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,
Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
-- Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
In the cold grave--under the deep deep sea,
Or in the wide desert where no life is found,
Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound;
No voice is hushed--no life treads silently,
But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke, over the idle ground:
But in green ruins, in the desolate walls
Of antique palaces, where Man hath been,
Thoughl the dun fox, or wild hyaena, calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.
-- Thomas Hood (1799-1845)