Life is an epic
Wednesday, January 18, 2017 7:44 AM
Ladies and gentlemen, a soft breeze blows in the old Barnes Cemetery near Fairview on an unseasonably warm January afternoon. While gazing upon a familiar grave marker, a ray of sunshine peeks through a clouded sky.
With eyes closed, thoughts drift to my great-great-great uncle, Dr. Sigel Roush – doctor, dentist, author, world traveler, educator and member of the Highland County Hall of Fame – who was born April 5, 1862 and passed away Dec. 15, 1954, more than six decades ago.
When my eyes open, I am back at a familiar, happy place – a place that looks newer, yet older. I knock on the door of the cottage that is no longer there, waiting for a relative who is no longer there to answer.
The 1930s-era DeSoto is parked in the driveway, but there is no answer at the cottage door. Gazing around, I behold the old Doc feeding the chickens in a coop in the back yard.
“Good afternoon, Steve,” Doc Sigel says. “It’s so nice to see you again, young man.”
“It’s great to see you, Doctor Roush,” I say with a smile. “But I don’t feel too young today. You see, I have a birthday coming up in just a few days, and it’s strange how when I was young, birthdays were exciting and fun. But with each passing year, the excitement and fun has been replaced by what could be described as an air of melancholy. My grandfather always told me we only get one merry-go-round ride, and sometimes I wonder when the ride, which seems to go faster and faster, will come to its ineluctable end.”
“Who is your grandfather?” Doc Sigel asks.
“Wesley…” I reply, immediately realizing I might have made a mistake.
“Wesley,” he interjects. “My older brother’s name was Wesley, and I have a great-nephew named Wesley, but he doesn’t have any grandchildren.”
“Not yet,” I mumble.
Pondering birthdays, youth, age and life, the old Doc launches into a welcomed story told in typical Roush style: “Youth cries out exultingly, ‘We have arrived.’ Middle age conservatively admits, ‘We may be getting nearer to the goal,’ but old age is firmly convinced that we never reach the mirage of perfection, that the last curtain finds us still groping about for that will-o’-wisp, Supreme Consummation.
“Perfection, whether in the mental or moral sphere, whether in scientific achievement or material attainment, from the very nature of things, can never be fully realized. True, the illusions of youth are tantamount to actuality, but later these convictions become open to question, but when the years have brought a fuller measure of experiences and observation, when both the immediate and remote past are realized and calmly analyzed, we are ready to join with the findings of the preacher in his conclusions that there is nothing new under the sun.”
“Uncle Sigel might change his tune if he’s seen what I’ve seen,” I think to myself.
Almost as if he was reading my mind, the Doc declares, “‘Nothing new!’ exclaims the youth with fine scorn who has just taken his first airplane ride. ‘Nothing new!’ cries out the maid who has just finished a waltz in her mountain camp deep in the primeval forest to music furnished by an orchestra a thousand miles away. ‘Nothing new!’ vociferates the fan who in New York actually watches play by play a football game being played on a gridiron in San Francisco.
“‘Nothing new? Why you're crazy; you don’t know what you are talking about!’ No, not crazy; only realizing that after all is said and done we are dealing with the same old forces and laws that have existed from time immortal; working out new combinations, perhaps weaving new patterns, holding up our products at new angles, but fashioned out of material that has existed from the time of creation; speculating in new fields of thought, peering into blind alleys that end in the mists of destiny, seeking to travel along old paths that lead to an atmosphere too rare for mortals, to a photosphere too blinding for earthly eyes.”
“Isn’t that a bit pessimistic,” I ask.
“Pessimistic? Not at all,” Uncle Sigel answers with a smile. “On the contrary only emphasizing the amazing interest that life holds for us; a perennial interest that is as absorbing to us of the present day as it was to our First Parents. What a world! What a privilege to be permitted to live in it!
“To feel all the thrills, all the joy, all the inspiration, yes, and even the contrasting sorrow that only emphasizes, after all, the exquisite pleasures. And then when we have had our day, when like a tired child who has been playing just long enough, to have the curtain drawn on this marvelous drama, to await the next scene, perhaps more wonderful than the last. Of course, we must acquire a certain sustaining philosophy that will carry us through the doldrums, the dead centers, like a flywheel in a machine that receives its energy through intermittent impulses. For a too smooth course at length becomes monotonous. But once obtained, this flywheel philosophy will insure an equilibrium that will keep us evenly on the course that destiny has marked out for us.
“Life is an epic, and like all epics, the theme in its essentials must always be the same; nothing really new. But we can write this epic brilliantly, usefully, entertainingly; or we can make it drab, tiresome, uninspiring; it all depends upon the author. One takes the old material and fashions it into a fabric of fascinating colors; another weaves the threads of life into a shoddy pattern slovenly, commonplace, ugly. ‘If there is nothing new; why bother?
“It’s the same old story.’ True, there is nothing new. There is nothing new in the virgin forest, the undeveloped mine, unconfined stream, free electricity, but the man with vision will bend these old forces to his will, when, lo, there come forth man servants and handmaidens to serve humanity.
“Your life will encounter nothing new; you will be furnished the same materials that countless generations before you have used. But you are a freewill product; will you choose the pleasing, helpful patterns? The bright threads? Will you weave sunshine into the fabric of life? Or will you produce only the cerements of sorrow?
“It’s up to you. Choose.”
Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press.