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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

748 When the little flowers open and the bird sings, let us smile or cry together - for we are kin

Day 748: Sunday, April 3, 2022

When the little flowers open and the bird sings, or when the bell tolls let us smile or cry together — for we are kin.

Stanley Gordon West (1932-2015) was an interesting fellow who wrote a lot of novels and was a strong advocate for the protection of the aged and of children. But what he is most remembered for is probably a line from his book Growing an Inch:

Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.

Unfortunately, it seems that for some of my fellow citizens that is a pretty un-American idea. My joy is mine alone and you have no right to have any part of it!

Before despairing about the epidemic of It's all about me, let's go back a few centuries and recall some far more subversive ideas from John Donne (1572-1631). In 1624 he wrote his famous Meditation XVII which later became a familiar poem. Donne had a really hard life. He and his wife had 12 children and his income was practically nil. Although Donne was a clergyman, one biographer points out he was so desperate that he had to resort to acting as a lawyer to put food on the table.

In Meditation XVII Donne points out that the adversities and the joys of any one of us belong to all of us because we are connected.

We are, in fact, kin. When a child is baptized or a person is buried; That action concerns me: all humankind is of one author. And a bit later on, he writes his well-known lines:

No one is an island, entire of itself; every one is a piece of the continent a part of the main…. Any person’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in humankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

A second-generation Syrian friend living in the United States wrote me recently that there was a word in Arabic that seems to mirror John Donne's meditation. The word is soumoud and it means the steadfast kinship of people who are standing in solidarity with each other in adversity or joy and moving together through the whole cycle of life. Parents who see their children killed in Ukraine or Syria or starving in Yemen are dramatically aware of the kinship that binds them together.

I do not sense much of this kinship in our own country and especially not in the majority of political processes we are enduring. At this point in the political circus there are those doggedly driving home that the common good or trouble has absolutely nothing to do with ME. There is some light in the mostly united way we in this country feel support for the people of Ukraine, though there are those who support the attacker, in large part because of the ME focused sources of news these fellow citizens follow

In reviewing my book Thinking With The Heart, a critic once wrote of me that I was well-meaning but incredibly naïve and seemed to be wanting to return to the make love not war fantasy of the 1970s. If anything, that critic would think I have become even more naïve, because I am confident that somewhere there are enough people, who are trying to share the joy and the sorrow of those around us, who are trying to be kin to each other. And my hope is that group will grow.

I cry with my own grief and also with yours. I have pain for the people who cannot afford to rent a house. For single mothers living below the poverty line and attempting to raise their children in this overprivileged society. For citizens of Ukraine who are being murdered or driven from their homes. And I want to feel joy wherever love enriches our existence — when two people find each other, when a child is born, when a family is fed.

When your shy little niece with learning difficulties has found a good friend, let us all rejoice. When a faithful dog who never judged you dies, let us all grieve. For we are kin to each other — whether we like it or not!

When the little flowers open and the bird sings, or when the bell tolls let us smile or cry together — for we are kin.


Brother Toby


Today is the final day to watch the excellent documentary "Once you Know" presented by St. Columba's in Inverness. And please get ready for a Zoom discussion of the film this Monday the 4th of April.

To sign up go to this link:

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