The Link Between Strength and Weakness

The Link Between Strength and Weakness

Pentecost 50

In 1957 a political leader from the USSR visited the USA. He was asked many questions by the press corps regarding his visit and the differences between the two countries. One question posed asked about the likelihood of a war between the two nations, an apt question since relations were very strained and characterized by the term “Cold War”. The Russian leader smiled and said there was no need for his countrymen to invade the Americans. He proclaimed that “apathy” would be the great downfall of the United States and afterwards, his country would simply pick up the pieces.

In 2003 another self-described enemy of the USA stated that downfall of the American people was eminent because the foundation of their country was “built upon straw”.   Eight years after this proclamation, on May 2, 2011, this radical leader who was responsible for the death of thousands of his own countrymen was killed. Vanity often precludes a fall and most times evidence of such vanity is seen in grandiose speeches. Does history bear the truth of the old adage “Pride goeth before a fall”? In any battle there is a victor and those who did not win. Is it possible to lose and win at the same time, to be both strong and weak simultaneously?

Millions are spent in currency as well as time on video games. Literature, whether in book format or graphic novel presentation, reflects the thirst mankind has always had for overcoming, surviving, and thriving in life. For some it is all about domination but others just enjoy the challenge of the fight, the journey from beginning to end. What is it about life that seems to require competition?

Pretend you are in the middle of a game. Before stands a city one hundred and ninety-six square miles large, all surrounded by a moat. The only entrance into the city, once you have defeated its protecting army in the outlaying fields, is across drawbridges. The bridges, though, are controlled from within the city and raised every evening to prevent intruders and marauders. Even if you could swim across the moat, you still have to scale the walls of the city, walls that are three hundred feet high, twenty-five feet thick, and are fifty-six miles long. Placed strategically along the wall are two hundred and fifty watch or guard towers that are four hundred and fifty feet high to allow for greater visibility of any unwanted guests. Once over the walls there is a great distance of nothing land, a no-man’s land that will need to be traversed before you reach the actual walls of the city, another tall, thick, wall that would require a ladder three hundred feet high to breach.

Sound impossible? Mere ego and avarice are not the weapons to use in winning the feat to capture this city. This was not a video game for Cyrus of Persia in 538 BC. It was a real life problem. Cyrus desperately wanted to capture the city of Babylon, the city I just described, and defeat Nebuchadnezzar. It seemed a ridiculous undertaking and yet, Cyrus used the best weapon in his arsenal – his brain. The Euphrates River flowed under the city and provided the necessary water for it. Cyrus had his men build trenches to reroute the waters by building a new river bed for the water to travel. Then he ordered his army to crawl through the old riverbed, breach the city from underneath, and overtake it. (This myth is mentioned in the religious writings known as the Book of Isaiah, chapter 44, verse 27.)

Cyrus had been encouraged by an ancient Greek myth, retold by Homer in the epic poem, “Iliad”. One of the central figures of the Trojan War, Achilles was a warrior said to be protected by the gods and goddesses. The child of a nymph and the king of the Ant People we talked about yesterday, the culture known as the Myrmidons, Achilles was said to have only one spot of weakness on his body, his heel. There are, as one might expect, differing stories as to how Achilles came to be so strong. Some believed ambrosia was spread all over his body and set afire. The one weak spot on his heel resulted from this process being interrupted. The more popular story is that his mother dipped him in the River Styx and held him by the heel, thus the only body part not to be protected. In the “Iliad”, Homer describes the strength of Achilles and the beauty of a woman named Helen.

As mythological tales go, Homer’s “Iliad” is a masterpiece. It employs characters that are indeed larger than life, mentions a few of the immortals of the culture, and illustrates the most common of human conditions and desires – love, strength, violence, beauty, and death. As a piece of literature it stands as a masterpiece.

Achilles was an Achaean, although his ethnicity was Myrmidon. The Achaeans arrived at a city known as Teuthrania, planning to overtake it. One man was sent to defend the city, a man known as Telephus and was wounded by Achilles. Now Achilles had spent some time with the centaur Chiron and one of the gifts from those teachings was the gift of healing. According to legend, after having been wounded, Telephus goes to Achilles and is healed. Now in our times, the story would probably be read that Telephus was taken captive and taken to Achilles since prisoners often are paraded in front of leaders to illustrate the worthiness of the troops. Regardless of how it came about, Telephus is healed and out of thankfulness, tells Achilles the location of the city of Troy.

Achilles went to Troy and magnificently fought. His death never appears in the “Iliad” and, in fact, the son of Achilles, Neoptolemus, inherits his father’s armor and fights in the final battle for Troy. All stories about the Trojan War exemplify the strength of Achilles. He was the strongest, smartest, bravest, fastest warrior at Troy. He spared no lives and supposedly killed hundreds or thousands of Trojans and their allies. His bloody reputation was guaranteed with each telling of his hiding inside a wooden horse of monumental statue, tall enough to hide an entire army. When the Trojans opened their gate to take the Trojan Horse inside, delighting in his beauty, Achilles jumps out, commences fighting and the rest of the actions make him immortal. In spite of such glory and great power, the myths claim Paris, another central figure of the Trojan War stories, the man who initiated them with the taking of the beautiful (and married to someone else) Helen, killed Achilles with a single arrow to his only weak spot, the ankle by which his mother had held him while dipping him into the River Styx.

There actually was a city called Troy which controlled all trade in and out of the Black Sea. This made the city very wealthy and very definitely not Greek. It actually suffered destruction multiple times and the one that occurred about the time of Homer’s epic poem was known as Troy Vlla, around the year 1190 BCE which corresponds nicely to Homer’s date of 1203 BCE. That Troy was destroyed by an earthquake. Other times the city of Troy was under siege by groups of allies, thirsty for its wealth and jealous of his trade power controlling the region. The Troy of the time about which Homer wrote, though is the Troy of our focus and that Troy was leveled by both an earthquake and tsunami. Interestingly enough, the Greek god of earthquakes and the sea was Poseidon and his symbol was a horse. Homer utilized a little bit of fact, a great deal of myth, and the inner desires and fears of man, those things we call strengths and weaknesses, to tell an awesome story still resonates today.

Something else that resonates is that we all have an Achilles heel – both literally and figuratively. The Achilles heel is a physical reflex involved in the action of the ankle. Figuratively it is a weakness that could potentially lead to our personal downfall. As humans, we tend to focus on our weaknesses and not our strengths. We ignore the fact that each relationship nurtures those strengths and weaknesses.

Chuck Gallozzi published a great piece at several years ago discussing how to recognizing one’s strengths while” managing one’s weaknesses”. I really like that terminology. All too often we see only our weaknesses and let that discourage us and stop us cold in our tracks. Gallozzi advised looking at “the big picture” and realizing that weakness is simply the absence of power. For me, it is important to ask what type of power one wants and if that is a beneficial type of power. Gallozzi also points out those weaknesses should not be considered our enemy; they serve a purpose. We relate to one another through our weaknesses. First, though we must identify and take an honest look at what our weaknesses are.

Gallozzi suggests that we should change what we can and not try to concentrate on overcoming but in gaining strength from the effort. Like the Serenity Prayer most of us know and can recite, the next step is to accept what we cannot effect change to and once, accepting those weakness, learn to make them a strength. Often those things we cannot change really are our identifying, unique features. The world would be a pretty dull place of everything was one color, if all people looked exactly alike, if we all ate the exact same thing for every meal every day of every year. That which someone may see as a weakness might be the very thing in your personal creation that makes you….you! Embrace your life and all that it encompasses – the good and the bad. What makes us weak to one gives us entry to understanding others. Once upon a time, we could not walk. Now we run through the day forgetting to stop and embrace our living. Take your weaknesses one step at a time but keep moving towards turning them into strengths. There will be no greater satisfaction.