No man (sic) 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 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, from Meditation XVII
Jacobean poet John Donne’s powerful words still ring true today, although humankind still strives for distinction and personal space. However, for the one who practices the art of “thanks-living,”the joy and the meaning of life are found in the connections forged among us. The meaning of life is expressed in community and communion rather than the glories of individualism and singular achievement.
“I did this” or “I made that” the human mind is apt to proclaim. The truth is that nothing is completely original, and we all build upon the lives, creativity, and experiences of others. We, too, will leave a legacy for good or ill upon which our successors must build.
Yes, that’s correct–“we.” Because we do not live in isolation. Even Thoreau in his Walden woods cabin could not completely separate the individual and his efforts from the joys and delights of a shared creation. The same sun and moon and stars that shone on Walden Pond still shine on all of us today. The same life-giving rain and nurturing soil belongs to all creation, not to you or me alone. Nothing can truly be held only by the individual, despite our illusions to the contrary.
We may build fences and wall and fortresses, but they will crumble and fall eventually. Robert Frost knew this when he wrote the poem “Mending Wall,” and said “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence./Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”
We are created to be our best in various constructs of community. We form family units, schools, churches, clubs, cooperatives, and any number of other groups that gather around shared purpose and goals. Together we are stronger than the isolation of our individual parts. When we break down walls and remove barriers, amazing things happen. Life and love flourish if given the most minute of opportunities.
One small example is our backyard garden. In all probability two new raised beds would have remained a dream without the joyous self-giving of our friend and neighbor, Debbie. She brought her tools, knowledge, energy, and laughter to the effort. She generously brought alpine strawberries, Egyptian walking onions, and black-eyed Susans to be planted. Other neighbors and friends, Ida, Audrey, and Creta gave their extra tomato and onion plants so that we now have an abundance to share with others.
Our little backyard garden, still very much a work in progress, is not something that we can claim as “ours.” It is the gift and product of community, the fruit of connection, and a harvest of true blessings.
Questions to Ponder
What strands of connection and community are you weaving into your life?
Who gives to you and to whom do you give?
What harvest of blessings might you celebrate during this season?