Born in Jönköping Sweden in 1905, Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld was a life-long civil servant when he was elected to be the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, taking over the reins from Trygve Lie of Norway. He served from April 1953 to September 1961 through some of the most tumultuous post-WWII years, which included the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, the Suez Canal crisis in 1957, and the civil strife in the former Belgian Congo in 1960 — 1961 (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
There has been much debate over what happened the night of 17 — 18 September 1961. The known facts are these. The Secretary-General was en route to negotiate a ceasefire following fighting between UN troops and Katangese troops under Moise Tshombe. The plane went down near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The Secretary-General, along with fifteen other passengers and crew died at the scene. The lone survivor of the crash, Sgt. Harold Julian (USA), the chief of security, died five days later. Debate has swirled around the possibility that the plane was shot down and those who survived the crash were subsequently killed by persons unknown. Results of inquiries into the crash and autopsies on the victims were all ruled inconclusive.
Even at the young age of 10, I was profoundly affected by what I found in Markings. Several years later, I would write a paper on the Secretary-General’s life and service while at the United Nations. A man of tremendous moral integrity and diplomatic skill, he was known for his exceptional linguistic abilities and memory. He spoke seven languages fluently, including Chinese. He knew every employee at the UN by name and had a personal relationship with each one.
I have always found the Secretary-General’s writings to be rich in understanding of the human condition, mult-layered in their insight, and voraciously hungry in his pursuit of a relationship with G-d. For forty years, Markings has been one of a handful of books that has gone with me wherever I go.
We are not permitted to chose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it — according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed — according to the measure of his purity of heart.
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.