Life’s quintessence

By Klaus Döring

What does quintessence mean? It is the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies. The essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form.

The quintessence of something is its perfect, ideal example. Some people say that the quintessence of American cuisine is the hamburger. Vegetarians may beg to differ. Ancient Greek philosophers claimed there were five elements: earth, water, air, fire, and a fifth substance that made up objects in the heavens.

Quintessential can also describe a person who is the perfect example of something, like a salesperson or athlete, but the adjective consummate may be a better choice in this context. The noun quintessence refers to the most typical or perfect representation of something.

Almost 36 years ago, a good friend of mine gave me a book written by the Establisher and founder of the Scottish Free Church, Thomas Chalmers, who lived from 1780-1847. During this time, I resided already in the Philippines for good and did some marketing work in the former Bishop Thibault Media Center near the San Pablo Church in Juna Subdivision in Davao City, while writing a column for the Catholic Herald and hosting radio shows for the former DXGN 89.9 FM “Good News Radio”.

Chalmers treated life’s quintessence with plenty  flowering words. Yes, don’t be afraid and live for something!

Human beings live, move and have to pass away – free from worries, but unknown and unnoticed. They live such an irreproachable life – reputable, but so incomprehensible and inscrutable. Chalmers was very right.

Why do people live like that even knowing they have to leave the platform of life one day? Why are people sometimes afraid to live and allow something or someone to block themselves? Still in my mind is one statement of Brother Francis Castro from the Little Brothers of Jesus. I quoted it several times already and it really became my life’s motto: “I feel the burning flame inside me that makes me jump out of the bed… and hurry to work!”

Life’s quintessence can be also this: Kindness, by helping the blind man crossing a street; hospitality, by practicing generous reception of strangers and guests (my very first impression, when I step on Philippine soil in June 1976!); helpfulness, by taking care of somebody, who is weak and dependent.

Believe me: your moment of virtue will never be destroyed by time’s storm. Henri Nouwen, a devotional writer and speaker, whom I also admire very much, spent two hours daily bathing, shaving, dressing, and feeding a man, who was so profoundly  able to speak or walk. Very clear, in that daily act of loving, Nouwen exemplified the compassion and sacrifice of Christ.

Love and merciful actions shared with people, who cross our path – and nobody will forget us. In our daily life, we do have plenty of situations, where we could show our real calling. Good deeds are shining like stars from heaven. Deeds of love and service may not seem to be an efficient use of time and energy, but they are never wasted. Our life doesn’t run counterclockwise. The clock’s hands are the time dictators of everyone. So, do live for something!


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