The Bell Tolls for thee….
On a recent afternoon I was walking out of 17 th floor office of Merrill Lynch in the ICBC Tower, in Central, Hong Kong when all of sudden I was gripped by powerful emotions for a man whom I hardly knew. In fact, I didn’t know him at all. Robert Kissel was a senior investment banker for Merrill Lynch, and the gripping thought was that when he was alive he must have surely passed this same portico through which I was now passing to catch the lift. But Robert Kissel is dead, brutally murdered by his wife and he would never again pass through this portico. For that one moment I was overcome with insurmountable grief and felt a sadness in my heart which I haven’t felt in a long time, since my dad died. It was absolutely surreal! I didn’t know this guy, I had never met him and yet his loss somehow diminished me. Somehow I felt less than what I was before.
Instead of catching the lift I took a seat in one of the sofas in the lobby of the floor. The secretary looked at me a bit askance, and frankly I was myself quite surprised at my behaviour.
Who was Robert Kissel? And why does his death affect me? Why did I feel so sad that afternoon and why did I want to reach out, across the vast emptiness of this universe, to this man who is no more and whom I had come to know only through the newspapers? I don’t know the precise answers to these questions. But as this unfortunate and sordid drama of Robert Kissel’s murder and the subsequent trial of his wife has unfolded in the Hong Kong media, I have been acquainted with this man and his story quite well and that afternoon I wanted to mourn his death, just as someone would mourn the loss of a dear friend. And as weird as it may sound, I wanted to be beside him, somewhere in the inter-galactic space, for I knew he would be lonely in his death.
We are all lonely in our death. My dad used to say that the dead are more lonely than the ones they leave behind in this world and we should let them go on to find peace and company in another world, a world irrefutably better than ours. I had to let go of Robert Kissel that afternoon and finally I thanked the receptionist and walked out of the office.
But no sooner had I come out of the ICBC Tower on to the Garden Road another thought stuck me. Every day so many human beings perish due to desease, accidents, murder, natural catastrophe, and a hundred other causes; did I ever bother to mourn their losses? Why not? Simply because they are not high profile bankers or because the media never bothered to glamorize their deaths? Or they were just some statistic rolled out in the daily newspaper – more than ten thousand die in tsunam or US army deaths tops 1,900 in Iraq or Katrina leaves more than athousand dead….
Perhaps, we don’t notice the dead, for they are quickly replinished by newones that are born every day and we hardly notice a void, unless of course, it is someone close to us or someone who is identified as a singular person. Robert Kissel was a man with a family, wife, kids and a great and tragic story; he singled out by the newspapers and media and so he became real to me. Yet, death, whether meant in the sigular or the plural is a terrible finality and it affects real people, with real families and real stories. There must have been thousands of Robert Kissels and Ram Mohan’s in the tsunami disaster, the 9/11 catastrophe and the Katrina disaster. Did I so much as to spend two minutes mourning for them or spend a fraction of my time on any day to remember them as human beings. The answer is no and I have an excuse for that. I didn’t know them personally, and I was not familiar with their stories. But their death was in a way my loss too. They were part of a whole to which I belong and that whole was lesser without them.
Whether we realize it or not every death diminishes us. Surreal but true. There is something that joins us across continents and seas, across faith and religion, across love and hatred. There is a bondage we cannot annul and there is a commoness that we cannot refute. The only journey that we do in our lifetime is the one that takes us across the boundaries of our hearts and minds. We may not know each other in our lives but we are all a family in our death.
As I hurried past the row of taxis outside the Citbank Plaza that afternoon a few lines from graduate school days came back to me. I had read John Donne long ago and his lines made my heart heavy that afternoon:
No man is an island, entire of itself......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."
© Rahul Bhattacharya
This column is written by Rahul Bhattacharya and reflects his own views about life and business. It does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other members of Risk Latte Company Limited, Hong Kong (“the Company”) and the Company accepts no responsibility for any factual errors contained in the column and strongly advises readers not to pay much attention to it.
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