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History’s main lessons

What might a great American historian, Indiana born, say when asked to write a book on history’s main lessons? Charles Beard, author with his wife of the monumental “Rise of American Civilization,” said that he didn’t need to write a book because he could do that in four sentences.

1. “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power.”

History is replete with examples of generals, kings and celebrities whose sense of self-importance led to a catastrophic fall.

In literature, there’s Chaucer’s story of Chaunticleer, a rich and smart rooster. He got so cocky that he was easily tricked by a fox’s fawning over his loud cock-a-doodle-doos. When Chanticleer, showing off, got too close, the fox ate him.

2. “The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.”

We grow impatient, but most positive changes, like the emancipation of slaves and women’s suffrage, don’t happen overnight.

3. “The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.”

All things are connected. El Niño trade winds in the Pacific cause weather changes in the eastern United States. A new virus from China causes a million deaths in the United States. Air and water pollutants in the United States drift across the Atlantic and Pacific. As Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry says, “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”

4. “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Many of us are seeing ageless verities more clearly because of the suffering and deprivations and fears imposed by COVID-19. We’ve seen that Facetime and Zooming, however helpful, come up lacking when compared with face-to-face, mask-less intimacy. We’ve learned just how ephemeral our existence is. Even millennials are writing their wills.

Some are feeling the need to hear and say more I love yous.

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