The Dag Hammarskjöld interview with biographer Roger Lipsey

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Dag Hammarskjold's Legacy
Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Dag Hammarskjöld’s Nobel prize ranks him among the world’s greatest peacemakers. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America urges prayerful reflection on his life in the church’s annual list of saint’s days—calling him a “Renewer of Society.” Retired Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams writes that Hammarskjöld “almost single-handedly shaped the vision for international co-operation and crisis management that we struggle to realize” to this day.

Henry P. Van Dusen—a former head of Union Theological Seminary in New York who often was called “a Christian statesman” himself—described the publication of Hammarskjöld’s Markings as “the noblest self-disclosure of spiritual struggle and triumph, perhaps the greatest testament of personal faith written in the heat of professional life and amidst the most exacting responsibilities for world peace and order.”

So why don’t more Americans recognize Dag Hammarskjöld’s name today?

Dag Hammarskjöld:
Mystery Behind his Plane Crash Resurfaces

His memory has faded partly because he died more than 50 years ago. However, later this year, the mystery behind his death is likely to resurface. After leading the United Nations as Secretary-General through a series of world crises since 1953, Hammarskjöld was attempting dangerous diplomacy in war-torn Africa in 1961. That’s when his plane crashed and suspicion, even then, fell on U.S.-and-European-backed forces in Africa who wanted his “meddling” to end. Unfortunately, that was the iciest era in the Cold War and the investigation into Hammarskjöld’s death was put on hold by the UN. The evidence seemed to be too remote; the potential issues behind his death too explosive.

However, later this year, a volunteer team of top international jurists is likely to reopen the case. Rowan Williams himself writes in the Cambridge Humanities Review that there “is an overwhelming case for a reopening of the investigation.”

This news alone is a solid reason to purchase a copy of Roger Lipsey’s inspiring new biography: Hammarskjold: A Life. Later this year, his name likely will be in headlines once again. You’ll be able to draw fresh interest in organizing a discussion group around Hammarskjöld’s life and spiritual legacy.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Markings, the Spiritual Classic

What transformed Hammarskjöld from an internationally mourned diplomat into a widely revered saint was the discovery of his private journal in his sparsely decorated, sanctuary-like bedroom. This collection of private jottings—the American title calls this collection Markings—became an instant best-seller in Swedish and then in English translation in 1964.

In Hammarskjöld, we have a world-class peacemaker who proved effective in the most potentially explosive conflicts in the Cold War—and a world-class saint with a spiritual wisdom captured in his own words over many years. ReadTheSpirit highly recommends Roger Lipsey’s biography of Hammarskjöld, and we are not alone in this view. Rowan Williams writes that “Lipsey is brilliant at reading the life in tandem with the meditations, so that we can see something of what was in Hammarskjöld’s mind at points of crisis—not his thoughts about the details of a crisis but what was nourishing him internally.”

INTERVIEW WITH BIOGRAPHER ROGER LIPSEY
ABOUT DAG Hammarskjöld

Click the photo of Roger Lipsey to visit his fascinating website about the life and work and writings of Dag

Click the photo of Roger Lipsey to visit his fascinating website about the life and work and writings of Dag Hammarskjöld.

DAVID: Once upon a time, the world knew two Dag Hammarskjölds. There is the author of Markings, a spiritual classic made up of his short meditations and poems about the meaning of life. Then, there is the diplomat who ran the United Nations from 1953 to 1961 at the height of the Cold War. As you point out in your book, however, he is no longer a household name. So, let’s start by introducing him to readers. He became a world leader almost by accident, you tell us in your biography.

ROGER: The people who selected him did not understand who they were choosing. Hammarskjöld was plucked from obscurity in 1953 by leaders in the United Nations Security Council who considered him a safe bureaucrat who had shown a lot of integrity in international meetings on finance and economics. They thought he would be a good and quiet administrator. They were wrong about that, but it was on that basis that the United States and the Soviet Union, the two main combatants on this choice, agreed to ask him to take office.

Hammarskjöld began to reveal himself in his first public words when he arrived to take office. Anyone with good ears could recognize right away that this was no dull bureaucrat. He was at Idlewild Airport in New York, now known as JFK airport. He was standing there facing reporters and one of them asked if he liked mountain climbing. He explained that his experience in mountaineering was limited to Scandinavia, so he had not climbed any famous heights. Then, he said:

“However, this much I know of the sport, that the qualities it requires are just those which I feel we all need today: perseverance and patience, a firm grip on realities, careful but imaginative planning, a clear awareness of the dangers but also of the fact that fate is what we make it and that the safest climber is he who never questions his ability to overcome all difficulties.”

That wasn’t the voice of a faceless bureaucrat! In one sentence, he pulled together a whole series of values, he showed his intellectual abilities and showed confidence without pride. This was someone with profound abilities for the challenges that lay ahead.

DAVID: World leaders continued to underestimate him for a while. He also started by quietly but firmly building his base. Give us a couple of examples.

LIPSEY: There are still living witnesses who remember that in his first weeks at the UN, he went to every floor and every office to shake hands and say hello to 4,000 employees. That’s still legendary at the UN.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Freeing Prisoners in ‘Red’ China

LIPSEY: I’ll skip over some of the earliest challenges he faced—but after his first year, he hit one of the biggest challenges of his career. The People’s Republic of China was a new regime and the United States, under the flag of the United Nations, had been at war with North Korea as well as thousands of Chinese troops. There was very bad blood between the U.S. and China. But some American pilots had been captured in China and they were facing a miserable future in Chinese prisons. President Eisenhower of course was upset, as were many American leaders, but they had no line of communication open to the Chinese leadership. So, it was handed to the United Nations to try to solve this problem. The General Assembly voted to dispatch Hammarskjöld to solve the problem. The truth is that American leaders did not expect much.

DAVID: You explain in your book that, even as Hammarskjöld started his negotiations, American leaders said particularly damning things about him. He was widely considered a failure—at first. Then, people realized that he had, indeed, been effective, right?

ROGER: Yes, this was Hammarskjöld’s first big international test and it worked out that these pilots were freed some months later. When they finally came home, this was justly considered a major victory for Hammarskjöld personally. He had shown what he was worth. After that, he was regarded as a big figure on the world scene. The major world powers knew that he could face intricate challenges and carry out highly effective diplomatic work. Hammarskjöld clearly was someone to reckon with.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Spiritual Strength in Peacemaking

DAVID: So, as readers enjoy your book, they’ve got these gripping stories of international conflict. And, as you retell them, you also show us what Hammarskjöld was writing in his secret spiritual journal that one day would become Markings. In the most difficult days of the Chinese conflict, he jotted some lines from Psalm 139. He wrote Markings in Swedish, and you’ve rendered that text in English translation. I like the wording you have in your book.

ROGER: On the day of his departure for Beijing, he wrote: “If I take the wings of the morning and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there also shall thy hand lead me.” He wasn’t talking about this publicly, but we now know this is what he was praying as he headed to China. Hammarskjöld was a man with a very strong spiritual life. He was a man on the world stage who—after the success with the Chinese—was highly honored and was being given one difficult challenge after another until the end of his life in 1961. Yet, we now can see that, although he never made a show of this, he was exercising an approach to living that was deeply Christian. This wasn’t in the way most of us may think of Christian practice. He did not attend a church, for example. But Markings shows us the depth of his reflections. He drew on Christian mystics, especially Meister Eckhart. Of course, this was not known during Hammarskjöld’s life.

Dag Hammarskjöld:
Broadcasting Faith with Edward R. Murrow

Dag Hammarskjold with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in 1959.

Dag Hammarskjold with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in 1959.

DAVID: Or, perhaps, people in the 1950s weren’t listening clearly, as you point out in your biography. Hammarskjöld did not exactly hide his spiritual side. He appeared on the popular Edward R. Murrow CBS radio series This I Believe.

ROGER: Yes, and in the 5 minutes provided in those short broadcasts, he provided a considerable credo. The United Nations even issued a press release about the Murrow broadcast, but the public didn’t realize what they were hearing. I have included the entire text of his broadcast in the book so you can read the whole thing.

DAVID: Now, so many years later, this is the broadcast where Hammarskjöld gave the famous description of his family providing two different streams of insight. Readers can get your book to read the whole thing, but he said in part: “From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country—or to humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions concerning what was right and good for the community, whatever were the views in fashion.

“From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God. Faith is a state of the mind and the soul.” And he went on to quote another mystic: St. John of the Cross. An amazing broadcast!

Dag Hammarskjöld: Creating the Room of Quiet

ROGER: There was another declaration of his spirituality that was noticed by the public—although no one seemed to draw conclusions about Hammarskjöld’s spiritual life. This was the creation of the Room of Quiet, which still exists to this day.

DAVID: You describe this inspiring project in your book and I think this is a good choice to excerpt a bit more of Hammarskjöld’s writing. So, we’re going to publish a second story with this interview about the Room of Quiet.

In relation to the Room of Quiet, let me point out to readers of our interview that Hammarskjöld was both Christian and deeply Asian in his mystical path, as well. I say “Asian” in general, because he clearly was immersed in Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese-Confucian traditions. He was eclectic in his mysticism. Toward the end of your book, you describe the rather startling appearance of his bedroom, after his death. This is where the text of Markings was found. And, I have to say, his sanctuary-like bedroom sounds fascinating. He kept it spare—we might say very Scandinavian—and yet he included a dazzling Buddhist wall hanging, a sketch of a man before a cross and so on.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Drawing from Asia

ROGER: He did read classics of Chinese and Indian spiritual literature. He knew the Gita cold! He also really appreciated Ezra Pound’s translation of Confucian literature, particularly Confucius’ The Unwobbling Pivot as translated by Pound. He especially appreciated Chinese works that synthesized political and community insights with personal spiritual insights. That’s one of the main characteristics of the Confucian literature.

Hammarskjöld read very broadly. He felt a kinship with Asian cultures in general. When he traveled to Laos, Burma, Cambodia and other countries in Asia, he was impressed in many cases by the quality of the culture and the people he met.

DAVID: I see an Asian approach to the subtlety of discernment even in the opening quote in your book from Hammarskjöld. He wrote: “You see, even a very small dent may lead to a rift, and a rift may lead to an opening and you may break in through the wall. The interesting thing is—is this a dent which may lead to a rift?” Is it fair to see an Eastern influence in his comments like this?

ROGER: Yes, I think that is fair to say. What we detect in Hammarskjöld’s expressions—including many that people thought of as diplomatic statements at the time—was an extraordinarily fine awareness of the need to subtly examine the texture of experience to find ways forward in peace. Hammarskjöld was a close student of the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, and you will find in Eckhart writings about a kind of emptiness and a kind of openness to God that is similar to some of the discourses in Buddhism and Vedanta. Really, Hammarskjöld regarded these as paths that led to the same summit.

DAVID: Was he a saint? Because he wasn’t Catholic, he isn’t in the running to be canonized as an official saint at the Vatican. But many American Lutherans regard him as a saint—he’s already on the annual prayer list of saints in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. How do you regard his spiritual legacy overall? I gather from your biography that even his closest friends were hesitant to talk about his spiritual power—other than recommending Markings itself to readers.

ROGER: The best way to answer this is from the beautiful letter toward the end of the book from Hammarskjöld’s friend Greta Belfrage. It’s a long letter and you can read it in the book, but at one point, Greta writes that Markings is “shattering reading of his struggle with himself, of the strong belief he has in himself as having been ‘chosen,’ of his never-faltering will to be led in his life and his work only by this God, who once spoke to him and called him.”

Then, at the very end of her letter, Greta explains that she and others are remaining quiet in public about the way they describe Hammarskjöld. She concludes: “Of course we know—even if we will never say so to anybody else—that he was a saint.”

Care to Read More about Peacemakers?

Small Blessed Are the Peacemakers coverReadTheSpirit publishes three books by global peacemaker Daniel Buttry: Interfaith Heroes, Volume 1, with profiles including Gandhi, St. Francis and Rumi; Interfaith Heroes, Volume 2, with profiles including Pope John Paul II, Hans Kung and Thich Nhat Hanh; and Blessed Are the Peacemakers, with profiles including Dorothy Day, Pete Seeger, Diane Nash and Ken Sehested.

And speaking of Ken Sehested: You may also enjoy reading Ken’s remembrance of the late civil-rights activist the Rev. Will D. Campbell.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-“f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

Dag Hammarskjöld designs United Nations Meditation Room

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Dag Hammarskjold's Legacy
Dag Hammarskjöld outside the United Nations building in 1953.

Dag Hammarskjöld outside the United Nations building in 1953.

The original plan for the United Nations Headquarters included a tiny room for meditation, but an interfaith group called The Friends of the UN Meditation Room wanted something more. They found a friend and enthusiastic advocate in Dag Hammarskjöld, whose interest in spirituality was not widely known at the time. Nevertheless, the Friends provided public support for what eventually became a masterpiece of religious design.

According to the UN’s official introduction to the room: “Mr. Hammarskjöld personally planned and supervised in every detail the creation of the Meditation Room.” He selected the carpeting and the hue of paint for the walls. In the center of the room, he placed a 6.5-ton rectangular block of iron ore, polished on the top and illuminated from above by a single spotlight. This block was a gift of the King of Sweden and a Swedish mining company. In addition, an abstract mural, a composition of interlocking geometric patterns that is supposed to evoke a feeling of the essential oneness of God, was ordered by Hammarskjöld from his artist friend Bo Beskow.

The room was opened in 1957. Dag Hammarskjöld wrote the following text to be distributed to visitors of this room:

Dag Hammarskjöld:
A Room of Quiet

We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence.

This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.

It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.

People of many faiths will meet here, and for that reason none of the symbols to which we are accustomed in our meditation could be used.

However, there are simple things which speak to us all with the same language. We have sought for such things and we believe that we have found them in the shaft of light striking the shimmering surface of solid rock.

So, in the middle of the room we see a symbol of how, daily, the light of the skies gives life to the earth on which we stand, a symbol to many of us of how the light of the spirit gives life to matter.

But the stone in the middle of the room has more to tell us. We may see it as an altar, empty not because there is no God, not because it is an altar to an unknown god, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in many forms.

The stone in the middle of the room reminds us also of the firm and permanent in a world of movement and change. The block of iron ore has the weight and solidity of the everlasting. It is a reminder of that cornerstone of endurance and faith on which all human endeavour must be based.

The material of the stone leads our thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction and construction, between war and peace. Of iron man has forged his swords, of iron he has also made his ploughshares. Of iron he has constructed tanks, but of iron he has likewise built homes for man. The block of iron ore is part of the wealth we have inherited on this earth of ours. How are we to use it?

The shaft of light strikes the stone in a room of utter simplicity. There are no other symbols, there is nothing to distract our attention or to break in on the stillness within ourselves. When our eyes travel from these symbols to the front wall, they meet a simple pattern opening up the room to the harmony, freedom and balance of space.

There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness.

Care to read more about Dag Hammarskjöld?

ENJOY OUR INTERVIEW WITH HIS BIOGRAPHER, ROGER LIPSEY: ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Lipsey about his years of research into Hammarskjöld’s life.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-“f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

A Quiet Heart (with a salute to Dag Hammarskjold)

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Dag Hammarskjold's Legacy

For our coverage of Dag Hammarskjöld’s legacy, this week, writer Benjamin Pratt pulled his own well-worn copy of Markings off the shelf and shares this true story about the value of quiet.

A Quiet Heart

By BENJAMIN PRATT

I don’t know Who—or what—put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone—or Something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal. From that moment I have known what it means ‘not to look back,’ and ‘to take no thought for the morrow.’”
Dag Hammarskjold, Whitsunday, 1961

Cloudy Sky over deep Woods“Hurry-scurry Offense! Butternut Defense!”

I have no idea what it means or where it started. I think it is one of those inane phrases I chattered that kept my mind quiet and let my body play basketball from instinct. But the phrase has come back often in my life as a reminder of something all too real that I tried to ignore. I often lived a “hurry-scurry offense,” pushing myself too hard with projects and tasks overwhelming me. It kept me from being truly present to others and sometimes oblivious to the needs and wishes of family, friends and colleagues. I lived with too much on my plate, feeling frazzled, rushed and ruled by excessive demands.

It took some very dramatic events to get my attention. In my early 40’s we owned a small cabin in the remote mountains of West Virginia, about four hours’ drive from our home near Washington, DC. We did have some marvelously relaxing times at that tiny retreat. One weekend, my wife and I left behind the demands of our home and went to the cabin to work, to make numerous repairs that were necessary. By 6:30 on Saturday morning I was already trying to get ahead of the day. Why I was whittling a long stick, I can’t tell you, but I almost cut off the end of my left index finger. Not a good start! With my finger wrapped tightly in ice and a towel, Judith drove me to the nearest hospital in Elkins, WVa, 45 miles on mountain roads, more than an hour by car.

As I sat in the ER watching the surgeon sew my finger together, I said, “So, how long have you lived here?”

“Oh, I don’t live here,” he replied, “I live in Washington.”

My mouth gaped and I said, “What? You live in Washington, DC?”

“Oh, no, I live in the state of Washington,” he said rather matter of factly. “I am considered one of the best surgeons in the Northwest. But I have a heart problem. Actually, I have two heart problems. One is that my physical heart is in bad shape. My second heart problem is that I am a workaholic. I push myself endlessly to satisfy something in my soul—I don’t really know what. The two have combined to the point that my doctor has told me that if I want to live much longer I must slow down and make serious changes. So, I did. I fly here to this area 2,000 miles from my home. I work 7-to-10 days a month and then go back home and spend time with my wife and friends and do a little consulting. I am fortunate that I can do that when I know others might not be able to. It has saved my life, my heart, in both ways.”

I was speechless. Was I dreaming or living in a parable? I was suddenly confronted by Clarence, the guardian angel on the bridge in It’s A Wonderful Life. This is too real to face. This man is mirroring me and describing a radical solution. This is frightening. It is awesome. It is a God moment.

I wish I could say that I was immediately lifted into a transformed being, but instead I left the ER and quickly added to the comedy of errors. I reminded Judith that we needed a new storm door but that, in the hurry-scurry, I had not taken the measurements. I was sure I could judge the size needed. We bought a storm door and drove the 45 miles back to the cabin. You guessed it. Wrong size. Another 90 mile trip to return the door and get the right one which I was still installing as night fell. “Haste makes waste,” say our Amish friends.

I did make some changes. I’m certainly clear that a “hurry-scurry offense” did not disappear from my life. Not immediately anyway, but I can tell you that slowly, surely, I became more present, patient and quiet inside as I set better boundaries on my schedule and my person. That amazing encounter in the ER was a watershed that shifted my life’s direction. My heart began to quiet in ways that I had never known.

Oh, yes, many other disturbing and dramatic experiences have awakened and then quieted my restless heart. If you ask me I might even tell you about breaking both of my arms at the same time and how that saved our marriage.

“Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.”
Matthew 6:34

“Give me a pure heart—that I may see Thee,
A humble heart—that I may hear Thee,
A heart of love—that I may serve Thee,
A heart of faith—that I may abide in Thee.”
Dag Hammarskjold, 1954

Care to read more about Dag Hammarskjöld?

ENJOY OUR INTERVIEW WITH HIS BIOGRAPHER, ROGER LIPSEY: ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Lipsey about his years of research into Hammarskjöld’s life.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

Dag Hammarskjold: His spiritual writing and peacemaking genius are shaping lives to this day

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Dag Hammarskjold's Legacy
Dag Hammarskjold stands outside the United Nations headquarters in 1953, the year he first arrived with little expectation that he would prove to be a peacemaking giant.

Dag Hammarskjold stands outside the United Nations headquarters in 1953, the year he first arrived with little expectation that he would prove to be a peacemaking giant.

Dag Hammarskjold inspired so many of our readers to respond, over the past week, that Read the Spirit is adding one final part to our series on the Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of the spiritual classic, Markings. (Use our convenient series index, below, to enjoy the rest of our Hammarskjold coverage.)

Dag Hammarskjold:
Learning
peacemaking
from a spider

First, today, we’re sharing an email from Hammarskjold’s biographer Roger Lipsey, who sent us this recent “find” in his ongoing research. Roger writes:

Thank you for the Read the Spirit coverage. This week, I am speaking about Dag Hammarskjold to a lively, intelligent audience of young United Nations people from all over the world. Here is one passage about him that  I came across too late to include in the biography, but am sharing with audiences, now.

Hammarskjold once revealed something of his shrewdness. The report is from Christian Pineau, French foreign minister during the Suez Crisis:

He had no illusions about the possibilities for settling the great conflicts that divide the planet, nor even the difficulties among neighbors in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. His sole objective was to avert or limit bloodshed.

“To that end,” he explained to me one day, “I start by seizing on the problem in the name of the United Nations. Then I guard against proposing a solution too quickly. Coming from me, it would immediately be suspect and rejected. But I complicate matters as much as possible; I multiply exploratory conversations. I act like a spider tying up an insect to immobilize it before eating it. I weave my threads around the problem to the point of making it invisible or, if you prefer, incomprehensible. In the end people no longer have a clear notion of what made them adversaries—and renounce fighting.”

“Alas,” he added, “it’s not always a success.”

Thank you Roger Lipsey for sharing this vivid anecdote!

Dag Hammarskjold: Indelible Childhood Memories

As Editor of Read the Spirit, I was not surprised this week to hear a number of childhood memories from adults in their 50s and older. As Editor, I was moved by a childhood memory myself to interview Roger Lipsey about his new biography (the interview is Part 1 in this series). In the mid-1960s, my own father literally preached Dag Hammarskjold’s message. My father, now-retired United Methodist pastor the Rev. Donald Crumm, bought Markings the week it was released in English. He was the pastor of a mid-Michigan congregation, at the time, and wound up preaching a month-long series of sermons on the spiritual lessons of this great peacemaker. I was 9 years old and those sermons are some of the first I can remember to this day.

This week, we’ve selected one extended childhood memory to publish. This moving memoir was sent to us by Deborah Taylor Valencia, 52, of Northville, Michigan. Her father was James Clagett Taylor Jr., a native of Sebring, Fla. Debbie currently facilitates an interfaith study group at Northville United Methodist Church continuing to broaden the insights gleaned from living abroad and the inspiration her parents instilled about lifelong learning.

Debbie writes:

This photo is part of a United Nations visual memorial to men and women who have lost their lives in the service of peacemaking. Click the photo to visit the UN website and view that photo montage.

This photo is part of a United Nations visual memorial to men and women who have lost their lives in the service of peacemaking. Click the photo to visit the UN website and view that photo montage.

“Who is Dag Hammarskjold?” Jeopardy fans of all ages recognize that question. But, Hammarskjold is far more than an answer in a trivia game for me.

Each time I hear his name, I recall my own awakening to this great soul. It was in the mid-1970s while living in Lusaka, Zambia, as the daughter of a US Diplomat that I came to know of Hammarskjold. My family was adventuring in the northern regions of the Zambian Copperbelt. After a day of wandering along bumpy roads, we had one more stop. As three weary tweens we were bordering on uncooperative with our parents and their deemed “worthy, must see site.” They lured us by telling us details of a suspicious plane crash and so we were keen to spot the crash site, hidden in the dusty haze.

Traveling down a long dirt road, I do recall stands of tall trees as we arrived and parked near the landmark. We crawled out of the cramped Ford Cortina to notice a simple marker with a notably Scandinavian name. In an exasperated fashion we had the air of “This is it Dad? We drove all this way out here for this!?!”

We had no idea of the enormity of this loss to the world.

My father, along with my mother, then talked about the importance of honoring and remembering Dag Hammarskjold. Oddly, the facts my parents shared that day now seem fuzzy, while the intrigue of a “suspicious” plane crash remains. Most importantly, however, is the experience of visiting the site—and my father’s actions.

My diplomat father showed us such strong reverence to this great diplomat and statesmen, who held Service above Self (also a Rotarian, my Dad). As he impressed upon us how the world lost a peacemaking hero—tears rose up in my father’s eyes, and he wiped them away.

I knew at that moment that we were on sacred ground. I saw clearly and understood well that my parents were passing on the universal belief that all nationalities are here to serve and give back to the world. As we see the dignity in each other we are capable of humbly showing mercy, seeking justice, and creating peace through mutual giving and understanding. We are united, as the human family.

Currently, a museum now stands at the site of the memorial we visited long ago. I imagine too there are much improved driving conditions. Back in the USA over the many years when showing slides at local schools we would always include the picture of the memorial to ensure that the name Dag Hammarskjold was introduced to younger generations.

My father, as a diplomat, understood the brave efforts of Hammarskjold, and at the same time I sense he recognized a shared spiritual connection in Dag’s efforts to heal the world. As I read the stories in Read the Spirit this week, I see similarities to my own father’s faithful character. Hence, as we approach Father’s Day (my father’s 50th and last was 2011), I consider this a tribute to Dad, a person of great insight and courage. His service taught us the true value of loving, understanding and honoring your neighbor. To this day, I am drawn to courageous, humble, peace-abiding “heroes” who inspire a universal belief in humanity.

Desmond Tutu has often said, “We are made for Goodness.”

Dag Hammarskjold and my father would have agreed.

Care to Read More about Peacemakers?

Small Blessed Are the Peacemakers coverReadTheSpirit publishes three books by global peacemaker Daniel Buttry: Interfaith Heroes, Volume 1, with profiles including Gandhi, St. Francis and Rumi; Interfaith Heroes, Volume 2, with profiles including Pope John Paul II, Hans Kung and Thich Nhat Hanh; and Blessed Are the Peacemakers, with profiles including Dorothy Day, Pete Seeger, Diane Nash and Ken Sehested.

And speaking of Ken Sehested: You may also enjoy reading Ken’s remembrance of the late civil-rights activist the Rev. Will D. Campbell.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)