The Ancient Modern
A Further Conversation on the Elixir of Life / Joshua Alan Sturgill
The old man who discovered the Elixir of Life offered many other intriguing words.
He once said, “I have a ladder inside my soul. It stands on my heart, and its top reaches to the Sun.”
“Who travels on such a tall ladder?” I asked him. “It would take a long time to climb all the way to the Sun.”
When he smiled, I understood my mistake. “What are time and distance?” he asked, with a gentle directness that meant it was not a rhetorical question.
“I suppose time and distance are quantities or forces. Or…maybe they’re relationships between things.” This second idea seemed better.
“Time and distance are images of Truth,” he said. “The heart does not move. And in just a few steps, the Sun can come down the ladder. On grey days, and in Winter often, I call Him and speak with Him secretly.”
A strange question came suddenly to mind and I ventured, “What does your heart look like?”
“A room with seven walls,” he replied. “With patience, every wall becomes a window.”
“Will the Sun come to visit me?”
“If you build Him a ladder. The ladder is not different from the Elixir of Life.”
“But I have looked, and I don’t know how to find it or make it— or build it,” I said sadly.
We were walking through a meadow. The sage found the seed pod of a flowering vine and broke it open. He shook out the seeds on a little patch of bare ground. He seemed to address these next words to the seeds:
“The Elixir of Life is easy to find. The drinker only needs the proper cup:
A silver chalice,
it rests on two stems
and bears two handles.
Seven vents pierce the lid,
where vapors of Elixir
may flow freely.
Within the chalice,
a single ruby stands
mounted on posts of gold.
The silver will be tarnished, but this does not affect the potency of the liquor. When the drinker finds the cup, he may drink as much as he can. Sulfur dissipates, and the silver gleams brighter the longer the cup is used.”
But I have never felt comfortable in my own skin, I thought. I am always hoping for somewhere else. So these words were difficult for me to hear.
“Everything is outside of me, far away,” I said. “The Sun and Moon and all the dreams I would like to pursue. I don’t have the patience. I feel like I’m a train set on tracks that it can’t change, going to a place it can’t choose.”
In our previous conversation, I was frightened. Now I felt a rising swell of despair coming up from deep inside myself—a great mountain of melancholy, as if the despair was not only mine but the shared sadness of many people.
“Even sadness proves the size of the soul,” said the old man, though I had mentioned nothing of my emotion. “Can you not see how it comes from deep inside you—perhaps, even from a depth greater than the distance to the Sun?”
“But what should I do?”
“Rest quietly. And don’t be too quick to escape from despair. Your sadness is surveying the land, preparing to build the ladder even while lamenting that it can’t be built.”