“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite
variety. . . .” So says Shakespeare
about Cleopatra inAnthony and Cleopatra. Now I don’t know about the Serpent of the
Nile, but as for me, age has certainly withered me. Or more specifically, my withers. Or even
more specifically, my knees. It started about 12 years ago. After having run-walked the annual Honolulu
Marathon for the second time in a row, I became aware of a gnawing pain in my
left knee. A typical male, I sucked it up and continued my practice of running.
It must be an allergy. Yet for whatever reason I have
difficulty seeing national flags on cars, tee-shirts, hats, lapel pins, running
shoes, even flagpoles. This goes for the Red-White-and-Blue, our Grand Old Flag.
While helping to unite smaller entities, states or provinces, nationalism often
does so at the expense of the larger whole. People wrap themselves in their
country’s flags before going off and killing, or being killed by, other people
wrapped intheircountry’s flags.
Children get bombed and women raped with the justification that they live under
“Marco! . . . Polo!” Kids in a pool. One yells “Marco!”
Another answers, “Polo!” After the fifth iteration, I’m wondering why I decided
to go swimming that afternoon. After the tenth, I begin to entertain homicidal thoughts.
Yet this dumbest of games honors one of the West’s greatest human beings. Why
do I say that? For contrast, consider that other great Italian discoverer,
Christopher Columbus. A century and a half after Polo’s travels to Xanadu,
Columbus arrived in the Bahamas. As Howard Zinn reports in
The wisdom of King Solomon is legendary, not to mention
Biblical. 1 Kings 3 tells the story. Two prostitutes are arguing about a baby
they each claim is theirs. So they take their case and the baby to the king.
“Bring a sword,” he orders. “I’ll cut the baby in half and give you each your
fair share.” “Fine!” Says one woman. “No way!” Protests the other. “Give the
baby to her.” “Aha,” says the king and awards the child to the second woman in
the certain knowledge that the real mother would rather give away her living
baby than get half of it back dead. This so-called Judgment of Solomon has
stood as a classic of wise decision-making down the millennia. Yet the Bible
also reveals (1 Kings 11) that the good king had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Moreover, one wife in particular got him into big trouble. So you have to
wonder just how wise he was. Like our exemplar last week, Solomon illustrates that
the fully human is sometimes compromised by the all-too-human. God, give us both
the wisdom to know the difference and the capacity to act from our best selves
ever more of the time.