A blog on the CNN website this morning
Pride Goeth Before the Fall
A blog on the CNN website this morning (06/24) urged the Dow Jones to remove General Motors from the top thirty corporations list on which the DJ average is based.
My how the mighty have fallen! Sic transit gloria Hummer. Oh for the days of Charlie Wilson, the GM former president who famously observed that "what is good for the country is good General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country." Poor Charlie, President Eisenhower's Secretary of Defense in 1953, was roundly criticized for his corporate hubris. Better for him that he did not survive to this moment in history when his company fades slowly into the dawn of a rising sun (think Japan).
History is littered with the boasts of those who for the moment were the king of the mountain and forgot that such prominence quickly passes.
John Lennon in the heyday of the Beatles smirked with his observation that he and the other boys from Liverpool were more famous than Jesus Christ. An assassin's bullet and time have seriously diminished John's fame, and the Beatles have joined Elvis and Bing and Rudy in the hallowed halls of music trivia.
I can still see Cassius-Muhammad pointing his forefinger to the heavens by way of insisting that he who could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee was indeed Number One. Maybe that braggadocio was just another of his frequent put-ons; but, sadly, the years and Parkinson's Disease have made him stumble and stammer like a drunkard.
Alexander the Great, legend has it, cried in frustration after winning a final battle at the edge of civilization because there were no more worlds left to conquer. He wasn't yet forty when he died and the empire he built dissolved in less years than his own lifetime.
The swollen human ego needs reminders that power and glory are transient. Today's king of the mountain always falls tomorrow.
I've been told, but haven't seen for myself, the grave stone a prominent suburban wheeler and dealer keeps in his office atop a building from whose windows he can survey his own importance. He explains the stone as a Jewish tradition, which my friend, a rabbi, labels morbid. Nonetheless, the stone reminds the owner, whose name is inscribed on it, that he is here but for a moment and must eventually account for what he has done with his time and wherewithal. Call it the iconic representation of the Biblical verse: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10).
Teddy Roosevelt, I've heard tell, would from time to time take a walk beneath the starry canopy to remind himself with his "bully" achievements just how insignificant he was in the larger scheme of the universe. At the Holy Thursday Mass at St. Peter's in Rome the Pope washes the feet of twelve sub-deacons, a reminder of Jesus' example reported in the Gospel according to John. This practice in an age of unpaved roads was the duty of the servants and slaves... and the Galilean's reminder to his followers that they, like him, are in the world to serve, not to be served.
King Solomon in Jewish folklore is credited with the saying "This too shall pass." He cites it apparently to mitigate his own failure to fight depression. I would suggest, however, that a wisdom equal to Solomon might insist the same saying be lifted high above every crowning achievement.
Or as Ecclesiastes almost said it but didn't, "Today's lion is tomorrow's dog."
Martin Luther advises every last one of us, no matter our worldly attainments and distinctions, our pieties or our pretenses, to hide behind the cross when God comes looking for us.
And while still on earth it might be best for us to hide some or our light under a bushel lest we be overcome with our own brilliance when we go past a mirror, stumble, and fall. Humility is counseled not only by virtue but by reality.
As Jesus puts it, "How blest are those who know their need of God...": because that is always our true situation. Let Charlie and Muhammad and John and Alex... and Teddy and Benedict and Solomon and Martin and me and you say "Amen."