The opening line of the Code of Jewish Law (shulacha
Aruch) encourages each individual to arise before dawn – it says “Be bold
as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to fulfil
the will of your father in heaven and awaken to the light of the rising
sun.” I know this because a rabbi
friend of mine in Sydney sent me this quote last week when all the Anzac dawn
services were taking place to commemorate the landings at Gallipoli – a battle exactly
a hundred years ago in which the Australians lost 9000 men and which has shaped
the 20th and 21st century Australian psyche.
I like the quote, especially at this time of the year,
because it resonates with so many memories.
I, too, love early mornings, a love which probably originated around
this time of the year when I was at school myself. In a boarding house, as many of you know,
there are few times in the day when you can get peace and solitude and
certainly when the exam season comes, you need to find some of that. I have always risen early rather than stayed
up late, because somehow the quietness feels different – deeper and stiller –
and it was at that time of the day during exam term when I got most done. It was true too at University, though
possibly for different reasons. I used
to play cricket several times per week and I soon discovered that rising very
early was far preferable to taking books to the game. The satisfaction of having achieved a fair
amount in the day before even having breakfast is worth discovering; maybe some
of the rowers in the Great Hall will be able to empathise with that and no
doubt a number of you, like I did, got up very early today to listen to the
election results come in.
Dawn is also worth experiencing in new places. Most people when they go on holiday like to
lie in bed; but next time you go away, try just one day when you get up early
and go for a walk. Watching a town get
up for the day, or the sun rise over a beach is a truly enlightening
experience; it is at this time of the day that you see fishermen bringing in
their catches, marketeers setting up their stalls, road sweepers clearing away the
litter, the poor homeless arising from cold slumber. It reveals life in the raw, nobody on show, great
clarity on what it is to be human. It is
at this time of the day, too, that you recapture sounds that are lost to cars
and the clatter of the day time: the chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves,
the patter of your own footsteps. Your
senses seem sharper.
Most of all, dawn brings hope. Yesterday I was in a taxi with a wonderful
West Indian driver and I asked him how his day was and he replied, rather
gravely, that it was not good; and then a big smile came over his face and he
said “but there is always tomorrow”. It
was a lovely answer because, without hope, there is nothing and it encapsulated
what a new day is all about.
The word ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army
Corps, a corps which was set up shortly before Gallipoli and disbanded soon
afterwards, so grave were its losses. The
Anzac spirit, the spirit of those Australians and New Zealanders who died at
Gallipolli in 1915, is now rightfully revered in those countries more than ever
before. For Australians it has become the most important day of their year and
it has helped to embed a national sense of liberty: a spirit of freedom, human
dignity and equality for all Australians.
The intention of the original Anzacs was no different; the Anzacs set
sail to a far off country and in their minds they volunteered for the
betterment of all of mankind, with visions and dreams of an equitable, tolerant
and free society. Too many did not come
back. Fighting at Gallipoli alongside
those Anzacs, for the same cause, was a man called Arthur Tisdall, an Old
Bedfordian and one of our school’s five VCs.
He died this week a hundred years ago and his relatives came back to
Bedford School to celebrate the memory of his life.
The main Anzac Service each year to commemorate these men
is a dawn service. Partly, this reflects
the nature of the landings themselves.
But partly, I am sure, it is to do with the stillness of reflection at
that time of the day, the perfection of its silence, and not least its sense of
hope for the day ahead. There is always