I didn't know Jo Cox, had only noticed her name in passing, and yet on Thursday, like millions of others, I wept as I watched the sombre, devastating announcement of her death. I wept again at the glimpse of her two small children, at her husband's dignified statement, at the sight of crumple-faced political foes standing side by side in shared grief. It felt as though a deep sadness had descended on us all, born of a stunned speechlessness; a profound silence at the heart of our public life, broken only by the sound of pain.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone... (WH Auden)
In bereavement it can often seem entirely incongruous and painful that normal life can continue around us. Auden's call for the clocks to be stopped is, at one level, a simple plea for normality to stop in the face of grief; for empathy and silent, universal respect, even from gently ticking mechanisms. At another, deeper level, it can also be a yearning for time to be frozen - as frozen as we can feel, in our pain - but preferably at a moment when death can still be undone. Alas, this can never happen; time moves constantly, and only in one direction. But still we can dream...
The Leave campaign has tapped into a desire for nostalgia, for a return to a supposed golden age of greatness and glory (conveniently forgetting the oppression on which this was founded), and a homogenous population. That lies behind the slogans about "taking back" or "wanting back" our country. But this image by Norman Hadley, circulating on social media, reminds us of a different type of nostalgia...
That glorious summer of 2012 was only four years ago, still as strong in our collective memory as far more recent events. Can that spirit also be strong in our collective present, and in our collective moving forward rather than back?
In the past few days I have wanted, needed, to write something about Jo Cox and her ideals, our tremendous loss and the state we're in. Words, however, have failed to come. I can only applaud those - especially her husband - who have somehow managed to find the words with which to express, not only their own grief, but the horror and pain of millions, in the process managing to capture a collective abhorrence of the EU Referendum campaign's vitriol and scapegoating, whilst gently urging us forward. Because, as we cannot go back, cannot even stop all the clocks, moving forward is all we can do. This extract from The Guardian's editorial, written only hours after her murder, says, with supreme eloquence and compassion, what I would want to say, and certainly what I believe.
What nobler vision can there be than that of a society where people can be comfortable in their difference? And what more fundamental tenet of decency is there than to put first and to cherish all that makes us human, as opposed to what divides one group from another? These are ideals that are often maligned when they are described as multiculturalism, but they are precious nonetheless. They are the ideals which led Ms Cox to campaign tirelessly for the brutalised and displaced people of Syria, and – the most painful thought – ideals for which she may now have died.
We are in the midst of what risks becoming a plebiscite on immigration and immigrants. The tone is divisive and nasty... The idealism of Ms Cox was the very antithesis of such brutal cynicism. Honour her memory. Because the values and the commitment that she embodied are all that we have to keep barbarism at bay.