The other day I had my secretary prepare a document requiring my son’s full name. I knew it was coming; it was just a matter of time. I initially thought she’d buzz me from her office and ask, but she didn’t. She brought me the document but lingered in the doorway for a moment, finally asking, “So…, what’s your son’s middle name again?” I sat back, smiled to myself, and said, “you know, in four months he’ll be eight years old, and you’re the first person to ever ask what his middle is”.
My name doesn’t mean anything; both my first and middle name were just names that my mother liked. I wanted his name to mean something.
His middle name is “Damocles,” as in, “the sword of Damocles.”
In the 4th Century BC, Dionysius II was the king of Syracuse, Italy. His wealth and power surpassed that of his contemporaries, but to maintain his kingdom he ruled with an iron fist, so much so as to be regarded as a tyrant. Damocles was a member of the King’s court, and there he extolled the virtues of being King. There could be nothing greater he often opined, than to have such wealth, to have such power; and in fact, to be the King himself. Upon learning that he suffered the envy of Damocles, Dionysius summoned him to the throne. If it were truly his wish, Dionysius proclaimed, he could be king for a day.
Damocles seized upon his good fortune, and decreed a great banquet to be held his honor. The finest foods, the most talented musicians, and the most beautiful of women were all brought before the newly appointed King. Late into the evening, as Damolces tilted his head back for a young maiden to feed him grapes, his eyes fell upon a large sword suspended above his head, held only by a single hair from a horse’s tail tied to the pommel. Should the hair break, the weight of the sword would send it plunging through Damocles, killing him instantly. Damocles was paralyzed with fear; his eyes transfixed upon the sword, he could not move. The food in his mouth became bitter to the taste, the music became noise in his ears, and the women seemed foul and grotesque. Finally managing to breath, Damocles cried out to Dionysius, begging him to remove the sword.
“To be King is to live with the sword forever over your head,” Dionysius explained. “For all my power, for all my kingdom, I live in constant fear that an unseen assassin will take my life. For me there is no peace, there is no happiness nor rest, only never-ending toil and the constant fear that each breath will be my last.” Damocles begged for leave of the court, and upon being excused, he would never return.
Damocles returned to his humble life, to his modest home and his meager possessions, but with him he took two valuable lessons. Happiness is not to be found in power, wealth, or material possessions; happiness is found within you. Happiness is to be found by taking whatever talents and skills the Creator saw fit to bestow upon you, and using them to best serve your Creator and fellow man. Don’t envy others for what they possess, but instead work hard and be content with what you provide for yourself. Happiness is to live your life to the best of your ability, knowing that the world will be a better place for your having passed through it, if ever so briefly.
A second, and perhaps more valuable lesson, is that life is but a fleeting moment in time; life exists between the grains of sand that fall through the hour-glass, and all that separates us from this world and the next can be measured by the strength of a single strand of hair. Each and every moment of life is precious, and you should live each day as if the sword remained suspended over your head.
I will teach my son the story of Damocles, and instill within him the lessons to be learned. Hopefully I can help him find his way in the world; and no matter where he goes or what he does, may he find peace and happiness. I gave him the name however, for purely selfish reasons; the time Mateo and I have in this world will be brief. At most I might have 30 years or so with him, hardly enough time for us to get to know each other. I’ll slip through the darkness and into the light long before I would choose, and long before I get to tell him everything I want to, everything I need to. I’ll forget so much between now and then; so much will be left unsaid and undone. So much will be lost.
But from time to time as the years go by, someone will ask him what the “D” in his name stands for. When he tells them they’ll get a puzzled look on their face, begin to crack a smile, and ask how on Earth he ever got such a name. He’ll pause before answering, and in that moment of hesitation he’ll remember the story of Damocles, he’ll remember the lessons he learned, and in that brief moment, as a single grain of sand falls through the hour-glass, he’ll remember me.