What has been done will be done again
I met Bill, a 92-year-old retired Hewlett Packard technician, while he was standing outside a packed pool room waiting his turn at a senior-center billiards tournament. He was wearing a Starved Rock, Illinois T-shirt. Such an unusual name got the better of me, so I asked.
“It’s a national park, named for when Illinois Indians starved themselves to death to avoid being brutally slaughtered,” he said, while eagerly watching his teammate’s successful corner shot of the 8-ball. “Yes!” he exclaimed, as his team soundly beat the opposition.
I reflected a moment before asking, “When did this event occur?”
“Happened in the 1770’s just before the Revolution.”
“Care to tell me what led up to it?”
“Let’s sit down. Been standing all morning…. That’s better…. You got a few minutes?”
“It’s an interesting story. Back then, southwest of Lake Michigan was French territory for the fur trade. Constant disputes over territorial hunting rights grew to open hostilities between the Ottawan tribes more to the east and the Illiniwek Indian tribes. After an Illiniwek brave murdered the Ottawan war-chief, Pontiac, the Illiniwek Indians took refuge in a vast canyon region on the southern bank of a river. It’s a national park now, with high canyon promontories, waterfalls, and tributary streams. The Illiniwek hoped rugged terrain would help them escape being massacred.
“The Illiniwek men, women, and children were surrounded by the Ottawan tribes, and chose starving to death rather than surrender to a dishonorable end, tied to a roasting pole for a slow agonizing torture. According to the testimony of two aged chieftains in the 1820s, Starved Rock got its name from that tragic event.”
“Wow. That’s incredibly similar to a tragic event 2,000 years ago,” I said.
“I know what you’re going to tell me: Masada,” he said, smiling at my surprised expression.
“I know a thing or two about Jewish history, being one myself.”
“Then you just spared me telling you the gruesome details.”
“Most everyone knows about Masada, how 9,670 Romans legionaries surrounded 960 zealot Jews who starved to death rather than suffer the agony of crucifixion.”
“That must be how the Indians got the idea,” I said, in a serious tone.
We both laughed at the oddity of history echoing itself.
“Human nature hasn’t changed much,” he said, responding to a call from his teammates.
I walked home, reflecting on our conversation. Somewhere in future time, another Masada or Starved Rock incident will have been begging for remembrance by two old men talking history. In King Solomon’s words, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:19)