Don’t let pet­ti­ness kill your soul

The Detroit News - - Weekend -

Tra­di­tion­ally, King Solomon has been re­garded as the pri­mary au­thor of three books of the Old Tes­ta­ment. Some in­ter­preters say he wrote Song of Songs while he was a lusty, young man (a book that should carry a PG-13 rat­ing). In mid-life, he col­lected his Proverbs, mov­ing on to less sen­sual and more sub­stan­tial work.

Late in life, as the in­ter­pre­tive the­ory goes, Solomon looked back over his past, con­tem­plated his even­tual demise, and col­lapsed into the fu­til­ity that is the book of Ec­cle­si­astes. “Ev­ery­thing is mean­ing­less!” is his for­lorn lament. Why did he ar­rive at such hope­less­ness?

In part, Solomon can’t bear leav­ing his ac­com­plish­ments be­hind. He’s an­gry that other peo­ple will suc­ceed with­out work­ing as hard as he did. And the coup de gras: His wealth will be left to those who will not do with it what he wants. This was more than he could take.

An­other such per­son was Welling­ton Burt. One of the wealth­i­est men in the world a cen­tury ago, Burt was a lum­ber baron who made a for­tune from Michi­gan tim­ber. He was hard­work­ing, ruth­less, of thorny dis­po­si­tion, and im­pos­si­ble to live with; his aptly earned nick­name was “The Lone Pine of Michi­gan.”

Burt’s de­scen­dants gath­ered to open his will af­ter his death. Out­side of a tiny stipend to be shared by his heirs, they painfully dis­cov­ered they had been ex­cluded. In what is known as “the spite clause,” his fi­nal in­struc­tions were that his es­tate be dis­bursed “twenty-one years af­ter the death of my last sur­viv­ing child or grand­child.”

Burt’s last grand­child lived un­til 1989, trig­ger­ing the twenty-one-year clause. Only then, decades later, was the es­tate liq­ui­dated. Twelve dis­tant de­scen­dants re­ceived their post­poned in­her­i­tances, none of them hav­ing known their great­grand­fa­ther.

What a mis­er­able way to come to the end of life! And one can ar­rive at that junc­ture as a rich, ec­cen­tric lum­ber baron, as a day la­borer, an en­gi­neer or bluecol­lar worker, a priv­i­leged, mid­dle-class cou­ple; or as a pes­simistic, an­cient king. It’s easy to al­low a grudge — what­ever its source — to poi­son us.

Thus, re­fus­ing to grant an in­her­i­tance is merely symp­to­matic. Gone also is the abil­ity to grant for­give­ness, to feel com­pas­sion, to love, or seek rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Sit­ting, sour­ing, and sulk­ing, the “root of bit­ter­ness” over­takes the heart like a kudzu vine, chok­ing out light and life.

What is the so­lu­tion? Well, old King Solomon, even in his de­spon­dency, had the an­swer. “There is a time for ev­ery pur­pose un­der the heaven,” he also wrote in Ec­cle­si­astes, and of those times, “There is a time to keep — and there is a time to let go.”

No one can con­trol the fu­ture while alive, much less from the grave. So, hold­ing on and hang­ing on for the ex­press pur­pose of harm­ing some­one else, or at­tempt­ing to even some un­set­tled score is the real ex­pres­sion of “mean­ing­less.” The only thing it ac­com­plishes is killing the soul long be­fore the body dies.


Keep­ing theFaith

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