Thursday, March 20, 2014

John Donne on Death

A neighbor died yesterday of a heart attack while working in his gorgeous garden. He was an older, dapper English gentleman with a fine head of white hair and a pencil white mustache reminiscent of David Niven. We knew him as someone who walked by with his wife and terrier every evening toward sunset. They'd stop as we worked in our garden and pay us compliments for our labor of love. Their own garden was a showcase of beauty and a tribute to the classic Engish garden. Slow death by cancer in some sterile hospital setting or to be struck down swiftly in the spring sunshine while working among your flowers? We heard the sirens go by, not knowing who they were for. After I found out, John Donne's words rang in my head. I pulled out my old Norton Anthology and turned to Meditation XVII:

"Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himslef out of this world? 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 they 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."

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