Back in 2015, I attended a fascinating evening at the Scandinavia House in New York City in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the U.N. and in honor of one of its most respected Secretary-Generals, Dag Hammarskjöld, the event was hosted by the current U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and composer and pianist Per Tengstrand.
The evening consisted of two friends sharing great stories and piano pieces staged to the themes of the evening from the great book by Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings (1963).
By six degrees of strange separation, this extraordinary book came into my life around 1989 when I was assigned the book to read at Hunter College in one of my many Political Science classes that focused on the United Nations.
At that time, being young and overwhelmed with school, as well as working to get by with too many courses on my plate, I breezed through the book not realizing that the profound words of the book would come back into my life at the most sad and disturbing time at my job.
Listening to the words read by the well-versed and extraordinary Jan Eliasson was a sight to behold and music to my ears by the great pianist Per Tengstrand permeated the room. The book and the words of a man long since passed drew me in and prompted me to purchase the book after the event.
Upon reading the book, I discovered what I had glossed over so many years ago, the memoir of a man who carried a great burden of duty of work, along with being profoundly lonely. His pain and despair, thrown in with much joy and his wrestling of his faith are at the forefront of this exceptional book.
But what struck me most profoundly were the words on page 28 that hit me with such clarity and intensity. At this time while I was reading the book, my colleague was suffering from CPD (Chronic Pulmonary Disorder) and had been out of work since Christmas. He was slated to return to work on the first week in February.
On a cold and chilling night that Friday, he chose to end his life in a sad and tragic way. I sat at my desk after I heard the news at the beginning of the week in disbelief and in great sadness for a man who was in such great pain and loneliness, he simply couldn’t see a brighter tomorrow. Who knows what demons were haunting him before he chose this path of no return.
For days, I wrestled in my mind with the questions one asks themselves when someone commits suicide. I proceeded to go to lunch and on a cold and snowy day in February, I sat in the corner of the cafe where I have dined almost every day for years and had read countless books, I began to read Markings. As I turned the page and came upon page 28, the profound page and eerie resonance of my colleague’s death found a concrete conclusion in Dag Hammarskjöld’s haunting passage. Dag’s passage brought closure to a moment in time that was indeed hard to grapple with at that moment in time.
Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964) pg. 28.