Back in 1986 Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated in a Stockholm street, as he and his wife strolled back from a visit to the cinema. And just over 60 years ago, in September 1961, Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary-General of the United Nations died in a plane crash in Africa, where he had been engaged in a diplomatic mission to the Congo.
Highly regarded during his life, his fame grew after his tragic death. He was awarded a posthumous Nobel Prize for Peace, and the book ‘Markings’, based on a personal spiritual journal became an international best-seller.
Dag was born into a leading Swedish family, and the 16th Century Uppsala Castle was his boyhood home.
From his parents he inherited the conviction that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country or humanity. Entering government service, he was appointed as Swedish delegate to the United Nations, and when the post of Secretary General became vacant, Dag received 57 votes out of a possible 60, and he was re-elected to a second five-year term before his untimely death.
The manuscript of the book ‘Markings’ was found beside his bed in his New York apartment, and it revealed the rich inner life of this discrete diplomat.
The Swedish word translated ‘Markings’ really means ‘trail marks’, and its pages reveal Dag’s search for truth and spiritual reality. In it he makes his hesitant spiritual confession, ‘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’.
He saw his real purpose in life as ‘to love life and men as God loves them for the sake of their infinite possibilities’.
Reading the New Testament, he became convinced that ‘behind every saying in the Gospels stands one man and one man’s experience.
It lies also behind the prayer that the cup might pass from him and his promise to drink it’.
Dag was also drawn to the Book of Psalms, and among his final entries was a reference to Psalm 78:35 … ‘they remembered that God was their strength’. That confidence explains an earlier entry, ‘Never for the sake of peace and quiet deny your own experiences and convictions’.
Hammarskjold never wavered in his determination to be of service. On all his travels he carried with him a pocket edition of Thomas a Kempis’s ‘Imitation of Christ’, and in it a bookmark on which was typed his oath of office as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Oh for such leaders today!