Tuesday, July 27, 2010


"We cannot afford to forget any experience, not even the most painful." ~ Dag Hammarskjold

Dag Hammarskjold was a Swedish diplomat who became the first Secretary-General of the United Nations. His book Markings is a collection of notes, poems, philosophical musings, insights on life and the challenges of being human in the modern world.

I discovered Hammarskjold's book in June 1993. Of his book I wrote in my own journal, "an honest, deep 'picking at the scabs' trying to understand the mysteries of injury and healing, pain and meaning. And good writing, too." And later I referred to it as a "treasure chest filled with gold pieces."

There are a number of themes he explores in the book, from his inner spiritual quest to the challenges of balancing public and private life. One would never know from reading the excerpts from his journals that he had been a man with such public influence and responsibility. The candor of his personal wrestlings is what gives the book its power.

Here are a few "gold pieces" for consideration from Hammarskjold.

1) I am reading about some persons, long dead. Surreptitiously, other names insert themselves into the text, and, presently, I am reading about us, as we shall be when we are the past. Most has utterly vanished. Problems which were once so vital spread themselves over the pages as cold abstractions--simple ones, but we failed to understand them. We appear as rather stupid, foolish, self-seeking puppets, moved by obvious strings which, now and then, get tangled up.

It is no caricature that I encounter in the distorting mirror of historial research. Simply the proof that it has all been vanity.

2) Is life so wretched? Isn't it rather your hands are too small, your vision which is muddled? You are the one who must grow up.

3) We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it--according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrified--according to the measure of the purity of his heart.

4) God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.

5) Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step: only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road.

6) Never measure the height of a mountain, until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.

7) The light died in the low clouds. Falling snow drank in the dusk. Shrouded in silence, the branches wrapped me in their peace. When the boundaries were erased, once again the wonder: that I exist.
The book, when released in 1964, quickly became a #1 New York Times Bestseller. It remained 31 weeks at the #1 position on the NYT Bestseller list, more than half a year... and worthy.

Thank you Mr. Hammarskjold for your service to humanity and for having shared this book of deeply personal and profound insights.

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