Jul 16, 2010

"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 bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

I'm not sure I could point to any passage of literature that has personally affected me more than this one. My brother introduced it to me when we were both discovering John Donne, who now is my favorite poet. I understand that this passage is almost a cliche, it's so quotable; that any one who knows of Donne knows it, and Hemingway only added to its significance. I also realize that it's almost a truism, a proverb that can ring meaningless in its universality. But for me, it changed my life.

No one has ever called me compassionate. I'm not sure anyone ever will. And once, I wasn't. I remember feeling distaste, when, as a child, I would consider people in unfortunate circumstances. Some things just weren't nice, thought the pupil of etiquette books and manners novels.

One day, when someone I knew faintly died, I felt torn about my emotions. I had met him once, some of my family knew him, and I knew a good deal about him. I wondered, was it dishonest to grieve? And I wondered, did I even feel grief? Was I trying to monopolize fame based on this tenuous tie? It was then that this quote came to me. And I grieved.

Since that time, I have never heard about the death of another person without thinking of that quote. It's not a selfish reminder; the focus isn't on the diminishing of yourself. It's a plea to recognize the importance of all mankind. It reminds me to care because my heart is too cold to do so naturally.

Somewhere along the line, I began to apply this quote to other areas of my life. Now it was not just a statement about mortality, it became the dictum to monitor injustice. What does it say about me if I live in world where people hurt one another? When humanity is ignored at the color of one's skin? When women can be raped, and no one cares? Where people can insult and assault others physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? Where people live without the ability to sustain their physical needs? Where we tsk, tsk, at the evil, and forget the humans? How can I relax with gratefulness that this has never happened to me?

I am involved in mankind. I'm part of mankind.

I care.

This seems too personal a post to comment on. Yet here I am. First, thanks for being so transparent. I appreciated and identified with your post on a couple levels, and you left me thinking. I’m stuck on your line, “No one has ever called me compassionate.” I never felt I knew you as well as I wanted to, but I know you enough to call you friend. For what it is worth, whether you would choose to use the word compassion or not, you have definitely ministered to me, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m not sure if my point in your life comes before or after your involvement in mankind transition, but I definitely saw it.
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Thank you for your honesty! I have experienced death a few times in my life and am perhaps a little too...objective in my views. Like you, I do not consider myself compassionate. But when you consider the loss one death brings, you realize the importance every person plays. Thanks again!
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