“No man is an island
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main. […]
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”
– John Donne
You’ve only met your great grandparents through our stories. This is one of my favorites:
He was one of the captive men on a rusty caravan on the way to Prats de Molló, one of Franco’s concentration camps in France. He was accompanied by a host of men, none of whom could even begin to imagine the terrible world that awaited them. One of the men had been a frontline soldier, caught in a trench. Another an important political figure, caught coordinating escape routes to Portugal. Another a civilian, caught insulting a Guardia Civil. Another a young boy, caught stealing food for his family. And then your great grandfather, a wartime photographer caught sending pictures to foreign embassies to evoke support.
“What are we fighting for?” one of the men asked a few miles away from Prats de Molló, his voice trembling from the cold and the fear. “For peace.” “For Spain to be free of Franco.” “For the war to end.” – the men would respond.
“For my children, whom I haven’t met yet.” – said your great grandfather.
That poem by John Donne is the epigraph to one of your great grandfather’s favorite novels on the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. After telling us his wartime stories, he would always remind us to “send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” It didn’t matter what “role” you had chosen- the Politician, the Soldier, the Nurse, the Mother, the Businessman – what mattered is that you knew when to listen, and headed fearless towards that direction, full of purpose.
As a little girl I would imagine there existed a Bearer of the Bells, leading his perfect orchestra that signaled out to each of his messengers in due time. “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Remember that, and know when to listen.
I knew about climate change, and I cared about climate change. I was also intimidated about climate change, and knew that I probably did not know enough about it.
Let me tell you what I did not do. I was not the one on the Podium, holding up a white placard, leading the discussion. I was not at the Laboratory, measuring the magnitude of what and how much this has changed over the years. I was not the Policymaker, leading the debate on carbon credits. I was not delivering a speech at the conference, making generations in front of me tremble at the thought of the world that needs fixing.
Let me tell you what I did, or rather, let me tell you who I was. I was “involved with mankind” in my own way, attending to the silent whispers of my own Bell. There are many paths to one same summit, many roles that need to be filled in that rusty caravan on the way to Prats de Molló… we just have to know how to listen to ours, and move passionately towards it.
It is like that old Chinese fable, Invisible String, that says that ever since we are born each Man is tied with an invisible string around his ankle that binds us all together- the string may stretch and tangle, but never break. For some it will be Climate Change. For others it will be Education. Poverty. Injustice. Freedom. To each his own, but all in one same direction.
I can only imagine what Bells may be ringing for you when you read this. All I can promise today is that when Your day comes, when You hear the tingling sound of a bell that whispers Your name:
You will show up to that journey with a backpack full of where-you-have-been. And you will be brave enough to know it is your turn to take up a Big space in this world, even if your hands might feel small. And when it gets sticky, or lonely, or dark and scary, you will remember how to climb onto your tiptoes, light a fire, and figure out the road ahead. And you will learn how to be inspired, every day, by “6 billion others” around you, knowing that each person you meet has a story the world needs to hear. You will be alert to the secret patterns of the world, eyes wide open. You will hold dear that innocent wisdom to know it is You who they are calling, You who is meant to be walking along the path you are now in- whatever the “theme” of your path, it does not really matter. They all count.
I know we will help build a world you will be excited to share with us. And I know you will help build a world you will be excited to share with your children, and that we will miss dearly when we are gone. Because on the way to Prats de Molló, it wasn’t about Him, it was about Us. And this isn’t about Me, it’s about You. And it won’t be about You, it will be about Them.
And this is the Deal you’ve already made with us in the infinite space you are enjoying before we meet, before we teach you how to tie your shoelaces, before I know your name, and before you exist as more than a sweet thought in our minds.
Above and beyond all, know that we’ve got you, always.
With all my love,