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Fiat Flux

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The Observer has been reading around a bit this morning in a new book just out from the University of Arkansas Press called "Fiat Flux," edited by historian William B. Lindsey, which collects the diary and other writings of philosopher and country doctor W.R. Bachelor, who moved from Tennessee to Arkansas's Franklin County in 1870 and died there in 1903.

The title — Bachelor's way of saying life is fleeting — comes from his constant awareness of the passage of time in his life and writings; years, seasons, months, hours, sometimes even minutes. Most folks, even the smart ones, don't realize until the very last that our lives are always spinning away. Ol' Dr. Bachelor knew it, though. His life as an agnostic and freethinker (content to believe in, as he put it, "one world at a time") coupled with his sense of life constantly flowing past him like a river stone caused him to see every moment and experience as something unique and beautiful. That's a good way to live, in The Observer's estimation.

The more we read of this book, the more The Observer realizes that Bachelor was a kinsman to us. Such beautiful writing, too: so true and brave and honest about where he fit in.

Here, for example, is Dr. Bachelor writing just after the hour chimed midnight on New Year's Eve 1892. Imagine him there at his desk, Future Dweller. See him there, hunched over a pen in the lamplight, scribbling out his overflowing heart as the clock ticked solemnly into a new year:

"1892 is gone!

"Gone, with its clamor of multitudes, and the unrest of millions. Gone with its statesmen, poets, millionaires and paupers.

"Gone. High, throbbing hopes and abject despair. All gone into the great maelstrom of nature's laboratory. The sinking ship, the devastating cyclone, the cholera pestilence.

"Time. What can I say of time? Turning toward the vision of the past, what do I see? Millions of solar systems. Before the nebular cohered to an orb, time was.

"The primeval beds of oceans — the sunken Atlantis, are the trophies of time. The extinct mastodon, the cave bear and the maker of flint arrows. The Incas of Peru, and the Negritos of India, swallowed up in time.

"Time is change. It is as limitless as space. Cycles of time have wrought nature as we see it. Cycles will still make future changes.

"Time is as deathless as eternity. It is eternity. It never had a beginning. It will never have an ending. Its silence is eloquent with colliding suns, grating worlds and hissing orbs. Its pathway is strewn with wrecks. The Sphinx still gazes, while Balbec, Memphis and Thebes lie in ruins. The pyramids of the Toltecs are sinking into the sand, and Cholua is crumbling to dust. Where the priest offered sacrifice and chanted the weird rites of the Aztecs, the scorpion now rears her behind. Cortez has passed away, and the halls of the Montezumas are silent.

"Human life is an electric sunbeam. Let us improve every moment. Good acts and kind words will never die. Let us not think of self, but for future humanity. And welcome 1893."

And then there are these heartbreaking words from Bachelor's eulogy at the funeral of his son, who died of consumption in August 1895, the doctor brave enough to avoid clutching at humbug even in the face of his grief:

"Friends, I undertake the painful task of speaking a few words at the final resting place of my son. What shall I say of death? It is birth. It is life. Every moment a man is born, every moment, one dies. A few years ago, we were not. A few years hence and all now living will be gone. Death is the inexorable law of nature. Do you ask me what becomes of the intelligence, love, hopes, fears of the dead? My answer is: where is motion when the wheel stops, or light gone when the candle goes out? All is nature — all in the Universe... He was a filial son, a loving brother, a true friend. He stood for truth and right. We leave him in the arms of mother earth, among the birds and flowers, green fields, babbling brooks and the golden sunshine. Farewell — a long farewell."

As The Observer likes to tell our writing classes: we don't know a damn thing about God, or heaven, or the afterlife. But we do know how you get immortality. It's in your desk drawer. Has a ball point. Less than a buck at any grocery store. Available in several stylish colors, and fits right in your pocket. No hocus-pocus required, just a willingness to tell the truth of who you were. Then you can live forever, just like the Good Doctor.

Then there are some of us who say good riddance to the past. Especially Monday, when we pulled ourselves up off the floor using the bathroom sink and pulled the damn thing out of the wall. Electric sunbeam, ha!

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