Travel is a strange business really – you’re in a different place, in a different time zone and then in just a few hours you’re back home and are having to adjust to the lag that you are left with. It takes time to get back into the right time zone.
It was a good experience in the USA and there were moments that were particularly moving. The most powerful experience I suppose was going along to Ground Zero and seeing what had been done there following 9/11. Many years ago I went up one of the twin towers to the observation platform that was there and I knew the skyline from those days of which they were such a significant part. Then I saw the site after the devastating attack. The hole in the ground, the cross made of girders, the silence around the place.
Now the Freedom Tower is all but complete and new tenants are moving in and where the two main towers of the World Trade Centre stood are two memorial pools. Water flows continually down the sides and in to the black holes at the centre of each. Around the edge are the names of all those who died in the attack, not in some impersonal list in alphabetical order but next to co-workers, next to colleagues with whom they died. It was a very humane way in which to remember people.
To be honest I’m not so sure about the darkness of the pools, the black holes at the centre and the seemingly disappearing water. I suppose that I wanted something more uplifting, something that spoke more, to me, of resurrection than just of loss. But there is no taking away from the power of the place – and the crowds of visitors testified to that.
Back in London the crowds have been heading in their thousands to the Tower of London to see a quite different memorial – the sea of poppies in the moat around the Tower. The 888,246 poppies are an incredible sight and such a visual experience of the numbers of individual lives lost – and because they were planted individually there is a real sense that each poppy represents a life. As I travelled from the airport into town I heard the reports that Tube stations close to the Tower had to be closed because of the number of people there. That is an amazing response from people at the beginning of these four years of commemoration and in this month of remembering.
Jet lag is all about readjusting to time and that readjustment comes in many ways. The fact that the year seems to be moving ahead at such a pace is unbelievable. I can hardly believe that we began the ROBES Project for this year this evening. Before the first group of guests were welcomed to Christchurch, Blackfriars we gathered in the church to pray for this year, for all those who will be our guests, for all those who will be volunteering to care for our guests and those who, like me, will be sleeping out again in the Cathedral churchyard to raise money for the project. It was a powerful and moving service in which we heard not just about the plight of the homeless but also the motivation of the volunteers who give so generously and receive so much.
This year in addition to the Bishop and others from the Diocese sleeping out to raise money for ROBES, we will be joined by the Master Innholder and members of that Worshipful Company. They will be celebrating 500 years as one of the Livery Companies of the City of London, in a service in the Cathedral immediately after we have slept out. For a group of people dedicated to hospitality and receiving strangers and pilgrims it is wonderful that they are doing this as a way of remembering those who have no where to lay their head.
Jesus said that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8.20) but he found hospitality amongst his friends. It is disturbing and a scandal that year after year we must open our church doors and welcome the homeless in – there is no excuse for homelessness in a society and city such as ours. But whilst there are brothers and sisters in need we must respond to that need and whilst we have space the doors must be opened.
Some things move quickly, some things change and move more slowly. We suffer from jet lag, speed sickness or frustration at the delays – but travel we must. There has been much talk of Dylan Thomas in these days when we have been celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday. My favourite work of his is ‘Under Milk Wood’ and it is words from the opening of that play-for-voices that came to mind as I have been combating my jet lag and contemplating the fast pace of time
Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
Time passes, quickly, slowly – but God is both beyond time and yet in time.
God of time and eternity,
bless our todays
and our tomorrows
and may we support those
for whom today is hard
that their tomorrow may be
a better day.