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No Man Is an Island

No Man Is an Island

Hello, everyone.

Fifty-five years ago, when I was in high school, we had an assembly one day. I do not recall the reason for the assembly, but I do recall that the school’s mixed chorus sang in it. They sang a song called “No Man Is an Island.” I also recall that I was mesmerized by that song. I cannot explain why, but that song captured my imagination, and I still remember hearing it over five decades later. Here are the lyrics:

No Man is an Island

By Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer

Copyright 1950 by Bourne, Inc.

 

No man is an island, no man stands alone

Each man’s joy is joy to me

Each man’s grief is my own

We need one another, so I will defend

Each man as my brother

Each man as my friend

 

No man is an island far out in the blue

We all look to One above

Who our strength doth renew

When I help my brother, then I know that I

Plant the seeds of friendship

That will never die

 

I saw the people gather

I heard the music start

The song that they were singing

Is ringing in my heart

 

No man is an island, no man stands alone

Each man’s joy is joy to me

Each man’s grief is my own

We need one another, so I will defend

Each man as my brother

Each man as my friend

The song is based on a paragraph in the Seventeenth Meditation by John Donne (1572-1631), a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Here is the paragraph, as Donne wrote it in 1624, in early Modern English – Elizabethan English, in other words:

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Man nor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Here it is in modern English

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 any manner of thy friends 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.

Here it is in a fuller context:

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…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.”

For the record: John Donne was born and raised as a Catholic. However, in the course of his theological study, he converted to the Church of England and eventually became a parish priest.

The lyrics of the song are nothing more than John Donne’s paragraph set to poetry, and then the poetry set to music.

This song is virtually never performed nowadays, and it is not hard to see why. The song is essentially about the brotherhood of mankind, and that thought is abhorrent to political conservatives and Evangelical Christians. Examples: Everyone with a functioning memory remembers John McCain’s channeling of the Beach Boys when he sang “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” during the 2008 presidential campaign. And it is a matter of record that many arms of the Evangelical church castigated and berated Billy Graham because he included Catholics and Mainline Protestants in his “Crusades” and “Crusade” committees. And the hostility to John Donne’s thoughts and the ideas of Whitney and Kramer’s song have manifested in the current presidential campaign in the hostility, invective, and vitriol directed towards President Barak Obama – a black man – and Mitt Romney’s invective against “the 47%” of Americans as revealed in a video of Romney speaking at a fat-cat fundraiser.

But is the idea of “no man is an island” dead? Not at all. It is alive and well in the love and goodwill that one finds in the Mainline Protestant church. It is alive and well in the soul of the Democratic Party and its party campaign platform. It is also alive and well in the heart, soul, and work of the United Nations. And it is also alive and well in the hearts and souls of all of us people of good will.

No man is an island, no man stands alone

Each man’s joy is joy to me

Each man’s grief is my own

We need one another, so I will defend

Each man as my brother

Each man as my friend

These words will strike home to anyone who watched the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the entire convention, two six-word sentences were repeated over and over and over: “We are in this thing together,,” and “We are all in this together.” Over and over. There are times when we all feel like we are the only ones fighting the good fight. What joy and comfort there is in knowing that we are not alone – that we are all in this thing together.

We need one another.” There was one time when I needed others, and they were there for me. Back in April, 1983, my first wife died of leukemia. Her family wanted her body brought back to Kansas, so the undertaker in Waukegan, Illinois, shipped it to Kansas City, and he also got me a seat on the same plane. When we got to O’Hare and to my gate, they eventually called my flight. I walked to the door to the jetway, but I just couldn’t bring myself to walk down to the plane. The guy who drove us to O’Hare – an Evangelical pastor — just stood there with his teeth in his mouth. Dottie, my Ginny’s best friend and a very devout practicing Catholic, could tell that something was wrong, and she came up to me, hugged me, and kissed me on the lips, and said, “God bless you, Bill. I’ll be praying for you.” My grief was her own.

After the funeral in Kansas, I was on the Southwest Chief, heading back to Chicago. I was sitting in the lounge car, and there was a group of Evangelical Christians there as well. We passed through a tiny Missouri town which had its cemetery next to the railroad track. As we went by, I saw a grave that was open, with the undertaker’s tent over it, ready for a committal service. Remembering what had happened the day before, I began to cry. The Evangelical leader observed me and said to his group, “Com on, folks. Let’s get away from this guy.” “This guy” could have used a little kindness and understanding, but like the pastor at O’Hare Field, that group and its leader were not up to providing it. My grief was NOT their own.

A side note to the O’Hare story: This pastor saw Dottie embrace and kiss me. The next time I saw him, he asked me if Dottie and I were having an affair!! Oh, that love of Jesus!! I never had the heart to tell her of that Evangelical pastor’s slander of her.

So now we are in the final weeks of a presidential election campaign. On one hand, we have a presidential and vice-presidential team telling the poor, the veterans, and the 99% as a whole that we are all truly in this thing together. On the other hand, we have a presidential and vice-presidential team who are willing to throw half of the United States population under the bus, gut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and spend that money on our already bloated military system and also on war, war, war, and war. The first party lives by the words of John Donne. The other party flat-out doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about the 47%. After all, it isn’t Mitt Romney’s job to worry about the poor and needy. He said so himself.

But thank God! There are people who take the words of John Donne and Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer seriously and who make those words the platform on which they lead their lives. All of us in the 99% need a helping hand some times in our lives, regardless of whether that helping hand comes in the form of some money, a listening ear, or a hug and kiss whenever we feel so all alone. John Donne says, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer say it this way:

 

No man is an island, no man stands alone

Each man’s joy is joy to me

Each man’s grief is my own

We need one another, so I will defend

Each man as my brother

Each man as my friend

 

No man is an island far out in the blue

We all look to One above

Who our strength doth renew

When I help my brother, then I know that I

Plant the seeds of friendship

That will never die

None of us is an island. As the Democrats remind us, we are all in this thing together. And the Supreme God is there at our side, encouraging us onward when the road of life gets toilsome. And who can ask for more than that?

Have yourselves a great day today.

Bill

 

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October 16, 2012 - Posted by | Miscellaneous, Politics, Religion | , ,

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