The Ancient Modern
The Elixir / Joshua Alan Sturgill
I met a man, a Sage, who in his youth discovered and drank the Elixir of life.
When I saw him, I knew instantly that the Fountain of Youth and Alchemy, Herbal Remedies and Distillations are real, but very different from the stories told about them.
The Sage said, “It is a privilege to run fast when young, and to stand straight when old.”
By this, he did not necessarily mean agility or posture. But when I saw him—bald and grey-haired, face draped in wrinkles—his eyes were bright and joyful, and he did indeed stand straight. He was not a tall man, but something in his calm gaze made me think he was standing in many places at once.
I asked him how he saw the world. He said: “I judge the little I see by the little I know. What is beyond my sight I do not judge. I make no claim to more knowledge than has been given to me. My judgement is never a condemnation. To condemn is beyond what I know.”
He also said, “My judgement is like a Strong Man standing at the gate of a Rich Man’s home. The Strong Man keeps many things out and many things in. The Rich Man trusts the Strong Man and shares his wealth with him.”
I asked him for advice. He said:
“Drink when you can. Walk when you can. Sweat when you can. Bleed when you can.”
I did not understand this. I wondered what he meant by drinking and by bleeding. I wondered where he was born and where he lived. I wondered why the Elixir had not given him eternal youth, but then I realized: I do not know what youth is.
I have very little courage, but I felt that not asking the obvious question would have been cowardly.
What is the Elixir of Life and how do I find it?
He said, “It’s such a pure and subtle liqueur that you may drink it through your eyes and ears. It passes through the stomach on its way to the heart, and does not need to be eliminated—leaving the body by the breath rather than the bowels.”
Because I felt frightened, I wanted to leave. Not frightened by him, exactly. I was frightened by the sense that I was now standing on unfamiliar ground. I wanted to get my bearings again. But I also wanted to stay there, sitting beside him, watching him.
I wondered, how often does he drink the Elixir?
I sat with him a little longer. He did not smile or frown. We waited in silence while a bird flew to the windowsill, drawn by seeds the Sage had scattered there.
The Sage seemed to read the bird—as you or I might read a book. How else to describe it? He read its feathers and its little hops. He read the way it took the seeds in its beak and turned them methodically, cracking them open, discarding the husk and swallowing the tender nourishment inside.