No Man (or Nation) is an Island

Laralova / Shutterstock
Fantasy flying island. Laralova / Shutterstock

NEW YORK — Manhattan was a traffic nightmare as the United Nations General Assembly was in session and security precautions ramped up.

Iran's president gave his usual insulting address. Israel's prime minister volleyed with dire warnings of Iran's nuclear-weapons intentions. Not much was expected of a session that was more political podium than problem solving.

But the event did underscore a reality that Americans often overlook: Not everything is about us. The world doesn't turn on a politician's latest line of attack. The fine points of Obamacare or Mitt Romney's 1040 or Paul Ryan's budget? Meh.

On the one hand, this unconcern is nothing unusual; hometown affairs are always of far more interest to locals than to anyone else. I could go months without caring about Kate Middleton's topless cavorting or political show trials in Beijing.

On the other hand, it is good to be reminded that we are one piece of a vast global mosaic. We connect with others but aren't necessarily the center.

Rather than proceed as a nation-level version of the "narcissistic princess" — as one reviewer labeled tell-all author Monica Lewinsky  we should pay more attention to the connections among us.

Reading Ayn Rand at the Hospital

About love she was all wrong,
the old capitalist, patron saint
of the self-made rich. How well
she misunderstood the paradox deep
as mothers’ grief: that finding our self
requires losing it, that love and loss
make one truth, not two. Objective
as granite in relationships, her hero
never collapses into cancer with a wife,
never drops into death with a brother.
No, Howard Roark, fountainhead
among architects, never really suffers
because he never truly loves. He relates
in a Randian arithmetic of negation:
one self living for another self equals
no self. Devoted to one ego alone, his
will is rigid as the steel girders he
sketches across the vast unknown. I
turn another tedious page, count
what’s left to read, then gaze
out the window to worry
what my wife’s biopsy will mean.
Beside me since sunrise, our daughter Mary
sets aside a limp issue of People,
ruffles my hair, then pours me coffee,
strong, steaming—just as John Donne
in slippers hustles his IV pole
down the corridor, his free hand clutching
the breezy back of a worn hospital gown. He
hurries to our chairs, bows to Mary
with metaphysical flourish, then whispers
through a painful grimace to me,
“Look, son: for your wife’s sake
lose that damned book!” Ducking
behind a lush fern to avoid his nurse,
the ailing Dean of Meditation 17
grabs my sagging shoulders, leans
in that long English face to declare,
“Now listen, you: Ayn Rand’s all wrong.
Got that? No man’s an island. Period.
And you can take that to the bloody bank.”

Mark Hiskes teaches English at Holland Christian High School in Holland, Michigan.

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