Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls

"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 bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

John DonneDevotions uponEmergent Occasions, no. 17(Meditation)1624 (published)

In the close-knit First Nations community of Norway House, where I live, the flags are quite often at half-mast.
I can't remember the first time that I read John Donne's famous poem but the words come frequently to mind, especially when I hear of someone's death or see a lowered flag.
It seems, as I mentioned above, that the flag is at half-mast more often here in this community than in any other place where I have lived. And it makes me wonder... who died? Why was the flag lowered in their honour? Were they a dignitary? A soldier? Was there a tragic event that took many lives all at once? What merited the lowering of the flag?
I've come to the conclusion that each live is so valued that it doesn't matter who it was. An "expected" death of an older person is viewed as the very sad passing of a valued community member, a wise elder, a treasured grandparent. That person's death, as John Donne says, "diminishes me."
I suppose it is because, even though the community has a population of 6,000 or 7,000, families have lived in this same place for generations - and if you don't know someone in the community, you know someone who does. There is no 6 degrees of separation here - maybe 2 or at the most 3.
It may seem strange to be thinking about death in the springtime. But the fact is, most suicides occur in the spring, especially in the far northern communities. Spring is a rather dismal time with bare trees, mud, and gray, thin ice on the lakes.
Whenever I see a lowered flag, I try to remember to say a prayer for the greiving family. I may not know them personally but they are a part of me, nonetheless.
Ask not for whom the flag is lowered. It is lowered for you.
Dorene Meyer
Author of The Little Ones
"Dorene Meyer approaches the difficult challenges faced by foster parents with compassion and a deep understanding. Throughout the book, the focus is always on the promises of God to never forsake His children. Really a touching, inspiring read!"
Crying Wind, author of Thunder in Our Hearts, Lightning in Our Veins

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