I don’t have any words for what happened in Orlando. I’m too tired: by grief, by shock, by fear.
John Donne’s famous No man is an island quotation, and his Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, come from his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, written during his recovery from a serious illness. I offer a selection here, which has often comforted and uplifted me.
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There is a story of a Bell in a Monastery which, when any of the house was sicke to death, rung alwaies voluntarily, and they knew the inevitablenesse of the danger by that. It rung once, when no man was sick; but the next day one of the house fell from the steeple, and died, and the Bell held the reputation of a Prophet still. … How many men that stand at an execution, if they would aske, for what dies that man, should heare their owne faults condemned, and see themselves executed, by Atturney? We scarce heare of any man preferred, but wee thinke of our selves, that wee might very well have beene that Man; Why might not I have beene that Man, that is carried to his grave now? Could I fit my selfe, to stand, or sit in any mans place, and not to lie in any mans grave? I may lacke much of the good parts of the meanest, but I lacke nothing of the mortality of the weakest … Perchance hee for whom this Bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knowes not it tolls for him; And perchance I may thinke my selfe so much better than I am, as that they who are about mee, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for mee, and I know not that.
The Church is Catholike, universall, so are all her Actions; All that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concernes mee; for that child is thereby connected to that Head which is my Head too, and engraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a Man, that action concernes me: All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated; God emploies several translators; some peeces are translated by age, some by sicknesse, some by warre, some by justice; but Gods hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves again, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another: As therefore the Bell that rings to a Sermon, calls not upon the Preacher onely, but upon the Congregation to come; so this Bell calls us all: but how much more mee, whom am brought so neere the doore by this sicknesse. … If we understand aright the dignitie of this Bell that tolls for our evening prayer, wee would be glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might bee ours, as wel as his, whose indeed it is. The Bell doth toll for him that thinkes it doth; and though it intermit againe, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, hee is united to God. Who casts not up his Eye to the Sunne when it rises? but who takes off his Eye from a Comet when that breakes out? Who bends not his eare to any bell, which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a peece of himself out of this world? No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
Neither can we call this a begging of Miserie or a borrowing of Miserie, as though we were not miserable enough of our selves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the Miserie of our Neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if wee did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce hath any man enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured, and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into currant Monies, his treasure will not defray him as he travells. Tribulation is Treasure in the nature of it, but it is not currant money in the use of it, except wee get nearer and nearer our home, Heaven, by it. Another man may be sicke too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a Mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to mee; if by this consideration of anothers danger, I take mine owne into contemplation, and so secure my selfe, by making my recourse to my God, who is our onely securitie.
At inde The Bell rings out, and tells
Mortuus es, Sonitu celeri, me in him, that I am dead.
… This soule, this Bell tells me, is gone out; Whither? Who shall tell mee that? I know not who it is; much less what he was; The condition of the man, and the course of his life, which should tell mee whither hee is gone, I know not. I was not there in his sicknesse, nor at his death; I saw not his way, nor his end, nor can aske them, who did, thereby to conclude, or argue, whither he is gone. But yet I have one neerer mee than all these; mine owne Charity; I aske that; and that tels me, He is gone to everlasting rest, and joy, and glory: I owe him a good opinion; it is but thankfull charity in mee, because I received benefit and instruction from him when his Bell told: and I, being made the fitter to pray, by that disposition, wherein I was assisted by his occasion, did pray for him; and I pray not without faith; so I doe charitably, so I do faithfully beleeve, that that soule is gone to everlasting rest, and joy, and glory.1
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1From Meditations XVI-XVIII. The spelling and italics are original, but the paragraph breaks are mine, for ease of reading.