This is a story from the Jewish tradition. I first heard Joel ben Izzy tell it in concert many years ago. This story has gotten me through some tough times.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, this story is for you. If you know other people who are feeling overwhelmed, this story is for them. Send it along, won't you?
King Solomon’s Ring
The wise King Solomon once had a captain of the guards who was very brave, very bold, and very obedient. He was also very boastful.
The guard was forever bragging about the brave, bold deeds that he and his guards had done in the service of the wise King Solomon.
King Solomon admired the brave, bold deeds. He did not admire the boasting.
So he decided to teach the captain of the guards a lesson.
He called to the captain, and he made the following assignment:
“There is a ring, I have heard of, a ring with a very special power: it can change the heart of a sorrowing man into the heart of a joyful man. It can also change the heart of a joyful man into the heart of a sorrowing man. Find this ring, and bring it to me.”
The captain of the guards started searching that very day.
First he went to all the jewelers in the town, but none of them had ever heard of such a ring.
Then he went to all the traveling merchants in the market, but none of them had ever heard of such a ring.
Then he went to all the sea captains in the harbor, but none of them had ever heard of such a ring.
The captain understood that this was a challenging assignment. He set off on a long journey to find the ring for King Solomon. He traveled to far away lands, and everywhere he went he asked about the ring. No-one he spoke with had ever heard of such a ring.
After a year and a day had passed, the captain of the guards had run out of ideas. He started walking back to the palace of King Solomon. He was tired, he was hungry, he was poor, his clothing was in rags, his shoes were worn out.
At last, he approached the city, and as he walked, he fell in beside a traveling tinker’s wagon. Out of habit, the captain asked the tinker if he knew anything of a special ring—a ring with the power to change the heart of a sorrowing man into the heart of a joyful man, and also change the heart of a joyful man into the heart of a sorrowing man.
The tinker looked carefully at the captain of the guards. Then he said, “I think my father, who is a tinker in the city of King Solomon, he might know of such a ring.”
Without much hope, but with no other ideas before him, the captain followed the traveling tinker to the little shop in the city. He explained to the father about the ring he was seeking.
The father looked carefully at the captain of the guards. “Wait here,” he said.
The old man went into the back of the shop, and brought out a cheap tin ring, the kind of ring worn by very poor people. He took this ring, and engraved on it four words. Then he handed the ring to the captain of the guards.
The captain looked at the ring, and read the inscription. As he did so, he felt his sorrowing heart change into a heart of joy. He thanked the old man and his son, and gave them the last of his money.
Then, holding the tin ring in his hand, the captain hurried to the palace of King Solomon.
Arriving there, he found that the palace was in the midst of a celebration. Fabulous foods, flowing wines, dancing girls, jugglers, musicians…everywhere he looked, the captain saw richness and happiness.
Without washing the dirt of his travels from his feet, the captain presented himself before the king.
King Solomon looked down on the bedraggled captain of the guard, and smiled. “My friend,” said the king, “I wished to humble you, to stop your boasting. I hope you know now that I have given you an impossible task.”
“But, Your Majesty,” protested the captain of the guards. “I think that I have brought you the ring.” And he handed the little tin ring to the wise King Solomon.
King Solomon looked at the ring, and read the inscription. As he did so, he felt his joyful heart change into a heart of sorrow. He looked around him, at the lavish bounty that filled the palace. Then he read the inscription aloud:
“This, too, shall pass.”