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.”
These words coalesce in my mind whenever someone dear to me is lost. A beloved friend called me yesterday to share the news that a former colleague of ours has passed in the night. Expected at work, Cheryl never arrived. She had been a gentle voice, a reassuring hand, a soft, supportive shoulder to me during my year teaching with her. An older woman, she naturally, easily, and effortlessly assumed the role of a maternal mentor, proffering sage advice and lending a listening ear to me, a confused neophyte. We worked together on a number of projects, as she primarily taught humanities and writing in the high school. Cheryl cared, and she supported her colleagues, us, keenly aware that a listening ear is more valuable than a wagging tongue.
Her loss, like any man or woman’s loss, diminishes me, diminishes all of us, because we are all involved in humanity. We are not islands, even if we feel lost at sea when a loved one leaves us. The beauty of community, of being a part of the main, is that we can seek succor from our family and friends.
After hearing the news, I returned to my work, but for the rest of the afternoon and evening, my thoughts returned to my recently departed friend, and I started thinking about the precious nature of every single moment of our lives. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” as Annie Dillard reminds us, and I sought assurances that I am spending my days and life the way I want to spend them. Think how you want to spend your life, your years, your months, your weeks, your days, your hours, your minutes, your seconds—and with whom. There are two kinds of people in the world: people who enervate and people who invigorate. I strive to spend as much time as I can with the latter persons, for I want people around me who restore and uplift me, people who make living worthwhile—as my friend Cheryl did.
I encourage each one of us to focus on how we are spending our seconds, our minutes, our hours, our days, our weeks, our months, our years, our time, and make sure that we are spending them with people who use their words to inspire us and buoy our spirits. The story below emphasizes this point that we must treasure every moment:
“Imagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course! Each of us has such a bank. Its name is Time. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the “tomorrow.” You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today. To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade. To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who missed the train. To realize the value of ONE-SECOND, ask a person who just avoided an accident. Treasure every moment that you have! And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time.”
Hamlet, after he returns from his time on the ship, marvels at the miraculous events that led to his standing on English ground again. As he describes the strange and wondrous events to Horatio, Osric arrives and shares Claudius’ wager on Laertes in a fencing match. Hamlet accepts the challenge against Laertes, the son of the man Hamlet accidently killed, an act that sent Hamlet into exile. Horatio, Hamlet’s dear friend, warns him that this fencing match may be a ruse, but Hamlet, centered and embracing of his fate says:
“Not a whit, we defy augury: there’s a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is’t to leave betimes?”
He’s at peace and ready to accept the world as is. The advice that resonates most with me is the following: “the readiness is all.” Since no one knows when his end will be, everyone must be prepared, at all times, to take advantage of this second, this moment, this opportunity. In sum, it is our responsibility to make the most of every moment, to drink life to the less, to know that the bell, when it tolls, it tolls for thee.