Here we go again...

A column from six years ago. What a pity it’s still relevant.

Independently Speaking

December 18, 2015  ·

On my birthday my family took me out for dinner.

We had a good time. The food was good, the small children well behaved, and we had an interesting, passionate discussion about politics, gun control, and terrorism.

A couple came into the restaurant. I recognized them, but couldn’t come up with their names, something happens to me a lot. I lead a complicated life and among my many failings, not remembering names is one of the most embarrassing. How I knew them did come back to me in time – we’d met at a speech I’d given, sat at the same table, and had a really pleasant conversation.

After dinner, while we were waiting for the ice cream, I took the grandchildren on a meltdown-avoiding ramble, wandering around the restaurant and leaving grubby fingerprints on every glass surface. The man I’d recognized left his table and came over to chat. He mentioned another couple we’d met at the same dinner and told us that the couple, originally from North Carolina, had a family member killed in the Charleston church shootings.

It was a startling thing to hear, like flipping on the lights and seeing a snake on the kitchen floor.

We live in such a lovely part of the world. We do send our young people off to the military and worry all the while they’re gone, but other than that, we usually live in such a little island of safety that a personal connection to a heinous act is the exception. I admit I appreciate that, but just because I live in a place with limited attraction to terrorists of every shape and ideology, it doesn’t mean I can ignore those who are directly touched.

I read For Whom The Bell Tolls when I was about thirteen and had no idea what the title meant. Luckily, Hemingway had John’s Donne’s meditation printed inside the front cover of the book and I immediately got the point. It’s been 75 years since the book was published and 400 years since the meditation was written, so I’ll reprint it here, just in case it isn’t fresh in your memory.

“No man is an island, entire of itself.

Each 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 thine own or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind

Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls.

It tolls for thee.”

We’re all in this together, from the great and the powerful to the last and the least. We live in a time where the politics of division have proved successful, and I believe that history will not kindly judge the folks who now work so diligently to foster an “us against them” mentality. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. We live in a world of 8 billion people and there are roughly 100,000 individuals who are responsible for much of the terror, despair, and waste that confronts us. That is a fraction so small as to be nearly invisible. That which unites us, that joins us in our common heritage as children of God, is so much greater than that which works to divide us.

Every death diminishes me, no matter how remote those deaths may be. I’ve known that since I was thirteen.

Now I’ve had a reminder.

Copyright 2015 Brent Olson

6Alison Olson Maraillet, John G. White and 4 others