A young friend of ours named Mark died unexpectedly recently. I didn’t know him extremely well but what I knew I liked a lot. He wasn’t a business mogul or some big deal athlete or a renowned actor. But he had something just as special: A delightful personality that was full of life and positive energy – and a totally infectious and unforgettable grin…
A wonderful memorial service was held for Mark a few weeks ago, filled with people who were as charmed by Mark as I was. There were affectionate reminiscences and wonderful stories told about him…and lots of laughter, plenty of wine and delicious hors d’oeuvres.
And then it was over. And, as usually happens in these situations, everything kind of goes back to the way it was…
I found that after the service, in the middle of the night, I felt tremendously sad.
It mattered that Mark died. It mattered that he had lived. Do we – did we – really “get” that?
But then about 3 AM, the words of John Donne’s masterful poem floated into my mind….and changed everything…
“No man is an island
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the Main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
John Donne (1573-1631) is considered the pre-eminent representative of the “metaphysical poets.” His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, elegies, songs and sermons. (And speaking of love poems, Donne secretly married Anne More, with whom he had twelve children in sixteen years…) Towards the end of his life he wrote works that “challenged death” and presented his (then unpopular) belief that those who die are sent to Heaven to live eternally. You might have heard of his poem, Death Be Not Proud, from which came the lines, “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so.”
It is said that John Donne believed that we all count; that we all matter…to each other. He believed that we are all connected, we are all necessary – that we are part of a whole, part of a “universal humanity” - and are inextricably bound to each other.
Donne believed that “open-hearted acceptance” of each other’s uniqueness is what makes life beautiful; that perhaps total “self-sufficiency” should give way to a new kind of loving “interdependence.”
I like that idea. The truth is, In this highly disconnected, even fractured, “every-man-for-himself, don’t-call-me-I’ll-call-you, don’t-you-see-I’m-busy?!,” world, we have never needed each other more…to be there, to change and be changed by each other.
And, who knows…perhaps even to change the world.
“Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the Main.”
John Donne was right. We are all diminished by the loss of one of us. Just as we are all enhanced by each other’s life…because we are inextricably “involved in mankind.”
And that is a reason to reach out...be there...and rejoice in each other.
Actually, Mark’s wonderful grin just flashed through my mind…I won’t forget it.