“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 bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”
– John Donne (English poet, satirist, lawyer, and priest)
God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please - you can never have both.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson (American lecturer, essayist and poet)
MIDDLE EAST, India, September 10, 2011—September 11, 2001 has considerable significance for Indians – they were the third largest ethnic group among the fatalities at the New York World Trade Center. In April 2002, the New York Department of Health put the figure at 34.
There were harrowing escapes and acts of heroism, but nearly 3,000 unfortunate people did not get away. Any person’s death reminds us of our own certain future as human beings; we are born, we live, we all struggle, and finally we will die.
John Donne reminds us no man is an island; we are all of us in it together. Life will conclude one day for all of us, with no exceptions – the only difference is whether we periodically do a reality check. A vast number of human beings prefer to think their demise is an illusion, and life will continue without a care.
This tendency is more pronounced and in direct proportion to a person’s health and affluence. One is reminded of filmmaker Woody Allen’s wisecrack, “I don’t have anything against dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Funny? Or sad? Depends how ready he will be, when it’s time to go.
Peggy Noonan, speech writer for former President Ronald Reagan, made the observation, “I think we have lost the old notion that happiness is overrated – that, in a way life is overrated. We have lost somehow, a sense of mystery – about us, our purpose, our meaning, our role. Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generation of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such – unhappiness.”
Frederick Buechner, author of more than thirty books, compares humanity to an enormous spider web. “If you touch it anywhere you set the whole thing trembling,” he writes. Every loss of life on those horrific 9/11 flights diminishes each one of us in ways we might do well to ponder.
Flying on those planes was not meant to be a point of no return for those 9/11 travelers – each one of them expected to get back to their loved ones, livelihoods, and colleagues.
It could have been you or me.
The saddest part of any disaster and loss of life is knowing how so many go through life oblivious to their need to learn and grow as humans made in the image of God. On those doomed flights, the people who learned about their fate before the planes crashed must have had a few minutes to contemplate the truth, before they crossed into eternity.
We are three dimensional beings, and our body, mind and spirit all seek fulfillment. But many of us are inclined to live as if we had all the time in the world to probe and understand the spiritual aspects of our lives.
We don’t, and each of us eventually arrives at a point of no return; perhaps a terminal illness, perhaps an accident, but more often a mind closed to the truth. We find ourselves at a point beyond which we no longer have the life span or attention enough to go back and start all over again.
The idea that life is a ‘circle,’ and what goes around from good and evil doings eventually comes around to the person is obvious in the Quran 32:21: “And indeed We will make them taste of the penalty of this (life) prior to the supreme penalty, in order that they may (repent and) return.” Karma, which means “deed” or “act,” broadly refers to the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, that governs all life, as explained in the Vedas. And Galatians 6:7 (NKJV) is clear: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
Nonetheless, all the religions have created much confusion about what happens after we die.
Before they died, everone on the 9/11 flights probably considered, however briefly, the big questions we all contend with or ignore.
What is the Truth?
Achievement or Atonement?
Religion or a Redeemer?
Reincarnation or Resurrection?
In our society’s overt culture of success, our focus is all about this life – saving money, consuming goods and living life to the fullest. A few of us think otherwise, but many folks might agree with the dying words of the actor Errol Flynn, “I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” His contemporary, the film producer Louis B. Mayer may have shared his philosophy, dying with the words, “Nothing maters. Nothing matters.”
People know death is inevitable, but like Woody Allen we prefer to keep it out of our minds. Yet its reality confirms that our efforts to stay young and immerse ourselves in the pursuit of pleasure and material wealth will end in a wooden coffin or an urn full of ashes.
For those of us left behind for a while, the poet Henry David Thoreau’s insight is worth thinking about.
“I went to the woods,” he said, “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”
What will we discover, when we come to die?
Jim Eliot, the missionary killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador, observed, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Those of us who escaped 9/11, have not missed the last flight.
We are just delayed.
Are we the wiser as we wait, for the last and final call?
Frank Raj is based in the Middle East where he has lived for over three decades. He is the founding editor and publisher of ‘The International Indian’, the oldest magazine of Gulf-Indian society and history since 1992. Frank is listed in Arabian Business magazine’s 100 most influential Indians in the Gulf and is co-author of the upcoming publication ‘Universal Book of the Scriptures,’ and author of ‘Desh Aur Diaspora.’ He blogs at www.no2christianity.wordpress.com
Read more of Frank’s work in ‘No 2 Religion, Yes 2 Faith’ in the Communities at the Washington Times.
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