Amid so much that has been moving in the ceremonies in France and Belgium, and here in the UK, I keep coming back to this photograph. It was taken at Compiègne in northern France where the Armistice was signed in a railway carriage in 1918. It has added poignancy because it was on this very spot that Adolph Hitler received the surrender of France in 1940, a highly symbolic location chosen out of revenge for the Treaty of Versailles.
That clasp of hands, the touching embrace that followed: it came across as completely authentic, entirely unstaged. It touched me deeply, and I wasn't alone. Here's what a non-European posted on Twitter. I'm from the Middle East. This picture moves me nearly to tears - curiously, more than I find it moves young Europeans. Do young Europeans even realize what has been achieved? It's nothing less than sacred, because peace is sacred, because human life is sacred.
I ended my last blog by writing that "there is nothing left to say. Except to be thankful". That's still true today. A picture's worth a thousand words. Yet there is more to say, and I want to write it while the events of this extraordinary weekend are still vivid in the memory. Here are three comments I'd like to make.
First, and most important, could we have asked for a more powerful image of reconciliation and friendship than this? France and Germany had fought each other no fewer than three times in the century leading up to the end of the last war. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the Great War of 1914-18 had cost both nations dear. France, especially, had suffered unimaginably. Among elderly French people, bitter memories even of the earlier conflict were still alive in the 1960s when I started visiting France. To them, the second world war with its terrible destructiveness was an inevitable aftermath of those earlier wars, a continuation of a story of European conflict that would never come to an end.
Up to the time I was born, exactly half-way through the twentieth century, it was inconceivable that these two great European powers could ever be friends. Do young Europeans even realise what has been achieved? asked my middle-eastern Tweeter. Maybe even older Europeans like me haven't quite taken it in. To anyone with a feeling for modern history, it does seem like a miracle. Not that these two leaders should stand together at such an emblematic site, but that their meeting should be so genuine, their gestures so spontaneous, so deeply felt by them both. These are the kinds of events that define history, and that promise great hope for the future. Isn't this what those who fell in war went to their deaths for?
Secondly, as I tried to argue in my last blog, we need to understand what's made this difference. I don't think that reconciliation just happens, or that time is automatically a great healer. Many - maybe most? - of the conflicts of our time are caused precisely because of old wounds that are opened up afresh, unhealed memories that are allowed to fester. What's different on continental Europe is the intention not to allow historical injuries to blight the lives of succeeding generations. "Parents have eaten sour grapes" as the prophet Ezekiel says (18.2), but that's no reason for their children's teeth for ever to be set on edge.
You know what I'm going to say. It's the European project that has created an environment where relationships can be negotiated afresh. The European Union, as we now have it, has brought peoples together in a purposeful way. It has helped fashion a different kind of narrative and discourse where nation-states stop fracturing the continent and instead start living together in peaceful, collaborative relationships in a common European home. We mustn't forget how hard-won that achievement is. Monsieur Macron said today in Paris that "patriotism and nationalism are opposites", that "nationalism is treason" because it is driven by a nation's self-interest, not the welfare of others. This is what causes wars. How much better to affiliate to families of peoples that will protect us from the nationalisms that tear our world apart. It's not that we shouldn't love our country - only that we shouldn't think of it as somehow better than any other country. I don't hesitate to say that renouncing nationalism is one of the most urgent tasks facing our world today. If we don't succeed, I fear it may end up destroying us.
Remembrance means many things - gratitude, sadness and pride among them. But lament for the past needs to be part of it too, and this means a mental and spiritual toughness that is capable of thinking forward to a future that is different from our broken history. So to me, this Armistice centenary and Brexit are closely linked. The peace of 1918 and the peace of 1945 both point to the crying need for nations to reimagine their "belonging", to think beyond national self-interest to the common flourishing of humanity. During the referendum campaign, we heard endlessly about "what's best for Britain", and not nearly enough about what the UK has to contribute to Europe and the wider world. Europeanism is not the end of a process but a beginning, for if we are incapable of thinking globally, then it's likely that the globe itself doesn't have a future worth working for. Clearly, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron understood the profound political significance of the day. How we remember shapes us in the present and (for good or ill) sets directions for the future. The logic that connects the Armistice with the European project is inescapable. It says: choose a different way, a more excellent way. Cultivate love, reconciliation and all that makes for peace. It's all there in that photograph.
Thirdly, and as a bit of an afterthought, it seems to me that there someone is palpably absent from the photo. It's our Prime Minister. Now, there may be all sorts of good reasons why she couldn't be there just then. Maybe she needed to set off for London to be back in time for the evening's Festival of Remembrance. We would all understand that and support it. Maybe the Macron-Merkel photo was set up as "Europhiles only" and she would have been de trop. Perhaps she was asked and politely declined. Nevertheless, her absence is striking. At Compiègne on 11 November 1918, there were not two signatory nations but three: France, Germany and Great Britain. In the light of that, how could the British not have been included in this powerful image of postwar reconciliation?
I don't know the answer. But what I read in the photo is a European future from which Britain is absent. And that distresses me beyond measure. Just think what a three-way embrace would have symbolised, how powerful its message would have been! But Brexit means Brexit. So while it's a wonderful photograph to treasure out of this weekend of commemorations, it's also a forlorn one, at least as far as Europeans in Britain are concerned. We could have been part of this true European entente cordiale, this tender reaching out of hands to those who have become firm friends and allies.
But while they are better together, we have turned away. We are on our own. And that is unbearably sad.