The Battle For Life
The best part about taking some time off is the transition from running at the daily pace of life to sleeping late and enjoying a rainy day. Today is just that here in the Hampton’s. Rainy, gray and in the sixties. Good day to look at family albums. My mother-in-law shared with me an old book handed down to her through the generations.
It is a tiny book entitled Aes Triplex, by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was written in 1887 and this particular book is signed by Dr. Livingston Farrand in 1902.
Dr. Farrand was an interesting man, he was President of Cornell University and was a very devoted health advocate; serving as executive secretary for the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in 1905. He was also treasurer of the American Public Health association. If there is a personal relationship between Robert Louis Stevenson & Dr. Farrand, I could not find it.
Robert Louis Stevenson was in ill-health for years and wrote this short essay prior to what he thought was his impending death. Ironically, he did not die for another seven years at the young age of 44.
Literally, Aes Triplex means triple brass in Latin or indestructibility. It denotes great courage and was used in battle armour.
Firstly, reading a book that is 125 years old is great. It reminds us that life is simple and the basics don’t change much. “The love of Life and the fear of Death are two famous phrases that grow harder to understand the more we think about them.” He has a wonderful passage in which he clarifies the ridiculousness of fearing death. If we really feared death we could not function. He makes an analogy of a couple enjoying dinner together all the while living on the side of a volcano that could erupt at anytime.
Stevenson reminds us that life is very valuable and should be lived without too much worry about the future and not too much time spent on regretting the past. Essentially, live but live well. To stay healthy is so important. “It is better to live and be done with it, than to die daily in the sick-room.“ He harbors a very ill outlook to the man who has to spend his dying days as an invalid. A man who can only look to his memories versus actually doing. At some point in life I have noticed that people just give up. For whatever reason they figure they have seen everything and done everything and cease to look forward. When that happens there is no reason to improve health or well-being.
In other instances it is the lack of health that starts the downward spiral. A life spent without much regard to the consequences of our daily decisions. It is at that point that a change can be made or not. “By all means begin your folio: even if the doctor does not give you a year, even if he hesitates about a month, make one brave push and see what can be accomplished in a week.”
It is simply a question of being prepared; to be “fully armoured” for the Battle of Life.
My definition of “fully armoured” is having all of your physical & mental abilities in peak form. It means providing your body & mind with the best possible energy to fight the fight. It is an attitude that promotes well-being and has no room for ingredients that are a harbinger to disease.
“For , after a certain distance, every step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through.” A life well lived and in health allows you the wisdom of time. To contemplate your choices versus the choices others make around you. And hopefully your ice patch will keep you afloat a little bit longer!
Finally, don’t focus too much on the past & don’t stress the future; but be prepared for the battle when it comes.
Robert Louis Stevenson shines in this quote:
“…so it is the first part of intelligence to recognize our precarious estate in life, and the first part of courage to be not at all abashed before the fact. A frank and somewhat headlong carriage, not looking too anxiously before, not dallying in maudlin regret over the past, stamps the man who is well armoured for this world.”
RLS died opening a bottle of wine…
On 3 December 1894, Stevenson was talking to his wife and straining to open a bottle of wine when he suddenly exclaimed, “What’s that!” asking his wife “Does my face look strange?” and collapsed. He died within a few hours, probably of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was forty-four years old. The Samoans insisted on surrounding his body with a watch-guard during the night and on bearing their Tusitala upon their shoulders to nearby Mount Vaea, where they buried him on a spot overlooking the sea. Stevenson had always wanted his ‘Requiem’ inscribed on his tomb:
- Under the wide and starry sky,
- Dig the grave and let me lie.
- Glad did I live and gladly die,
- And I laid me down with a will.
- This be the verse you grave for me:
- Here he lies where he longed to be;
- Home is the sailor, home from sea,
- And the hunter home from the hill.