No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . 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, Meditation XVII
Seventy-seven years ago yesterday, at four in the afternoon, the first wave of German bombers, 348 in all, flew without warning across the English Channel to bomb London and other cities in England. This was the beginning of the Blitz, which went on nightly for eight months and left 43,000 British civilians dead. Shakespeare’s “sceptred isle . . . this fortress built by Nature for herself” turned out to be little protection “against infection and the hand of war.”
We Americans also long believed that our two oceans made us a kind of island that gave us immunity from the world’s woes, a world that this morning seems very small indeed. With Harvey’s waters still flooding Houston and Irma and Jose rampaging toward Florida, with Kim Jong Un ranting about his bombs and 800,000 Dreamers’ lives upended on a callous whim, life seems particularly tenuous, and I am reminded of how suddenly storms and bombers and decisions made far away can upend one’s normal life.
And yet. I look outside, where the sun has just risen above the treetops, where the ocean is calm, the only sound a lobsterman’s boat, and I realize that I do live on an island. And I go about my day as if this tranquility will last forever.
It won’t of course, and after all these years I’m still working out how to live on that island and yet stay connected to the rest of the world.