for whom the bell tolls

Today I was reflecting on a part of John Donnes Meditation XVII. He wrote:

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

There is an idea found in many religions and philosophies that everything we need for our own happiness and peace is already within us. We do not need others and the peace that we seek, we can find it if we look inside ourselves.

Donnes’ Meditation makes the point that no man is an island but rather all men are connected to each other. We are so intertwined that what happens to any one person, in some way happens to us all. We are all impacted by the fortune and misfortune of each other.

I think I find myself more aligned with Donnes’ view. We live complicated lives and it is difficult to navigate through them without the help of those around us. With a good support network we can get through the pitfalls of life, we can work through past pains and we have people to celebrate the victories with. 

I am convinced that we are all made of something fundamentally good and that we can find a great deal of happiness and peace within ourselves. But I think that much of the joy we experience comes from our relationships. Not just from what they give us but from what we are able to give to them. When we share this basic love that all of us have the capacity to give, then we enrich and better and are enriched and bettered. 

Donnes’ Meditation inspired the title of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Here are some of my favorite quotes from that book.

“I loved you when I saw you today and I loved you always but I never saw you before.” 

“How little we know of what there is to know. I wish that I were going to live a long time instead of going to die today because I have learned much about life in these four days; more, I think than in all other time. I’d like to be an old man to really know. I wonder if you keep on learning or if there is only a certain amount each man can understand. I thought I knew so many things that I know nothing of. I wish there was more time.” 

“For what are we born if not to aid one another?” 

“There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.” 

“I had an inheritance from my father,
It was the moon and the sun.
And though I roam all over the world,
The spending of it’s never done.” 

“Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind. But living was a field of grain blowing in the wind on the side of a hill. Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond.” 

“But did thee feel the earth move?”  


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