Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details

The reality of unity in our midst


Photo: Herta Goetz

Fifty-eight years ago, in a little German village, my older sister, then a high-school sophomore, taught these words of Edwin Markham to me:

He drew a circle that shut me out —

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him in!

~ Edwin Markham,  Outwitted

My endlessly patient older sister and me, circa 1960.

Many evenings, my parents and I would climb the hillsides above that village to reach the table-like land at the top, where there were old orchards of apple trees. It was a LONG climb, especially on short legs. The reward was the sweet fruit waiting at the end of the climb, and the sunsets visible from that vantage point. That’s a metaphor that has stayed with me for life.

Until my sister reminded me of this poem recently, I doubt I’d given it concrete thought for years. Yet when I “heard” it again, something began to play inside me like a song. All through the time and distance I’ve traversed since that German summer, this has traveled with me, setting the roots of the tree of my life into the soil that grew my view of myself, always, as a citizen of the world.

I’ve been fortunate enough to return to this village several times with my husband, and even once with our grown children. Although my family lived there a bare eight months, I realize now that the war-weary Germans there who showed me such kindness insured that it’s at the heart of all I’ve loved about their country ever since.

Interior of the Baha’i House of Worship, near Frankfurt, Germany.

I also know today that because my WWII-veteran father could appreciate Germans, my British mother, injured in the Blitz, could forgive them, and my sister could be so determined to teach me the principle of oneness, my pathway of becoming a Baha’i no doubt began growing from the seed of my life that very summer.

Because so many different people were willing to care about me, and about showing an open heart, I would come to recognize instantly, as though it were a song already inside me, the truth of these words:


Bahá’u’lláh has drawn the circle of unity, He has made a design for the uniting of all the peoples, and for the gathering of them all under the shelter of the tent of universal unity. This is the work of the Divine Bounty, and we must all strive with heart and soul until we have the reality of unity in our midst, and as we work, so will strength be given unto us.                 ~’Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks

2 thoughts on “The reality of unity in our midst

  1. Lovely reflection, Phyllis. Thank you for sharing your memories so generously.

    Your reference to a “song already inside” you reminds me that the captivating Toni Tennille loved that Markham poem. Here’s a video link to her recitation of it, as her intro to the song (“Circles”) that she wrote and recorded based on it, for The Captain and Tennille:

    From what I’ve read in YouTube comments, I gather that this song, and the poem from which it sprang, reflected Toni’s encompassing love for her then-husband, Daryl Dragon, the “captain” of that star-crossed musical duo. His Asperger’s Syndrome reportedly made it difficult for him to open up to her or be demonstrative; she responded with the “larger circle” approach described by Markham. They remained friends after their divorce; and Daryl, as you may know, passed away just two months ago, January 2019.

    Toni, to the best of my knowledge, still tours and performs as a solo musician. It seems like just a few days ago she sang here in my home town with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. Actually though, that was several years ago, and since I didn’t get to go, I’m not sure whether she and the KSO did “Muskrat Love”:

    Be that as it may, thank you for drawing ever-expanding concentric circles of unity!

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