Richard and Robert Sherman penned these words for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The song, which arguably is the most translated and performed song in history, was written by the most prolific motion-picture musical songwriting duo of all time. It has come to be so closely associated with Disney as to make the two interchangeable.
Indeed, it is a small world (after all). That is, in spite of great distances, various languages, differing cultures, etc., there are uncanny personal connections which continually emerge. This may be due, in part, to the internet and the speed of modern transportation. For seldom does a day go by that I do not hear or read of another example which illustrates our “six degrees of separation” (put forth by the Hungarian, Frigyes Karinthy, 1929; then John Guare, 1990).
It is truly amazing.
Our world has shrunken. And because it has we have become more cosmopolitan in our outlook. We discuss world peace, world hunger, global warming, and issues with universal implications. And we are quite at home in doing so.
But I have come to see that there is at least one aspect of life where our world is exceedingly small; where it is a “small, small world.” Not because we have opened our arms so widely as to encompass the globe. And not because our perspective has become so universal.
On the contrary. It is because, in at least this one regard . . . we truly become small; that is, we retreat into ourselves, and in a very real sense, “our world” is reduced almost to the size of our own person.
Of course, I am speaking of death. Not a popular subject, I understand. But one which touches us all at various moments of our lives. And . . . ultimately, at one particular moment: our own death.
I first was made aware of this when my late mother shared with me her observation of my father just days before he passed away. She said he seemed to be retreating into himself; she felt the distance from him, personally. It was as if he was retreating to a place only he could go; there was no room for a shared experience.
And then I observed it in her, too, just before she passed. Admittedly, it is hard to evaluate the effect of some of the drugs she was on (to relieve her from the drowning feeling of her cardio-pulmonary hypertension), so I can never say her “distance” was in no way drug induced.
My father rallied on his last day, singing and enjoying a nice dinner. Then he was gone. Mother rallied, too, but only long enough to have a one word conversation with the nurse at her bedside. Then, she too, was gone.
If one is not killed instantly in a bomb blast or a car accident, etc., but has time to experience days/weeks preparing for his/her death, then I wonder if it is fair to say that his/her world gets smaller and smaller. It gets smaller until it reaches a place where introspective focus is complete, the focus puller adjusting to the changing distance between actor and camera.
No doubt, we live together in a world of laughter, tears, hopes and fears (as the song says); there is so much that we share. It is a small, small world.
And yet . . . .
We could say there is a sense in which that world gets larger and larger at death, so large, in fact, that it is too enormous for us to continue to embrace. We cease talking globally, our perspective diminishes, and we can only put our arms around ourselves.
Oh, we may hold the hand of a loved one, a life mate, a close friend or a child. And we may smile and express our love (if we are able to do so). But . . . “our world” may be bound by the four walls of a room in which we lie, or smaller yet – it may be limited to the confines of our mind.
We grow up from infancy, learn the importance of interaction with others, align ourselves with friends and/or life mates, and live out our lives in community. But when the end approaches, when our final day(s) arrive, when it is time for us to sing our swan song, leave the stage once and for all, and leave the audience we entertained with the task of evaluating our act . . .
We go behind the curtain alone.