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Marples: Medicine, alchemy and philosophy intersected

English is a language that borrows from other languages, yet it also unifies. I respect everyone’s right to be their own self. Everybody is an individual, exceptional and unique. I also think we need some mechanism to unify us as Americans.

While a growing number of Texans and Americans also speak Spanish, it is interesting to know that English itself evolved from other languages, including German and French in words such “angst” “cobalt” and “kaput” or “picnic” and “silhouette” — and most of those have Latin roots. A nation depends on easily understood communication.

One thing that has fascinated me: One doctor back in the 10th century devised forceps, speculum and used anesthetics in the form of sponges soaked with cannabis and opium. While I’m not taking a position either way on cannabis, in my view he was ahead of his time, medically speaking. Modern-day obstetrics and childbirth are greatly aided by medical instruments he developed.

In the 8th century, Geber the Alchemist developed a systematic examination of the nature of matter. His works were translated into Latin in 1144 by Robert of Chester, an Englishman who resided mainly in Spain translating Arabic texts into Latin. Today, everybody takes for granted that this calendar year is 2019, which is spelled-out in Arabic numerals. It might make a few people scratch their heads a moment to write out our calendar year in Latin. Incidentally, 2019 is MMXIX.

Geber was well-regarded in most areas of Europe, including Florence, Italy. He has been dubbed “The Father of Chemistry” because he proposed three classes of elements. Some were metal, some non-metal. Spirits could be vaporized upon heating (such as arsenic). Metals such as gold, silver, copper, lead and tin. Lastly, non-malleable-substances that could be converted into powders (such as stones). An example: limestone can be used to make cement. A lot of crushed stone is used in highway construction.

The United States is built on its infrastructure; roads, bridges and the like. It also is built on the premise of a band of diverse people bound together by at least a few similar hopes and dreams.

Our U.S. interstate road system is a good example of unity at its best. It links the lower 48 states. An American can drive coast to coast and border to border and generally count on similar roadway characteristics.

Humans are naturally bound to have different viewpoints. I just wish we had more who abandoned rancor and worked for the good of the country. Surely, common ground can be found somewhere on various issues.

Too often, pundits want to label a U.S. state as red or blue, for Republican or Democratic. I don’t like that since it perpetuates partisan divides. I tend to be a bit conservative. However, I’ve met people who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. And, I’ve met people who were the inverse. I try to get along with nearly everybody. I don’t compromise my principles, but I listen.

Our United States flag (and our Texas flag) are composed of the colors red, white and blue. Blue is for loyalty, white is symbolic of purity and red for bravery. All three colors constitute our state’s and nation’s finest attributes meshed together.

Our nation needs a fresh tonic to mesh courtesy and civility, like a phrase in the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians, which says: “First, do no harm.” I’d like to see some sort of alchemical formula to produce the type of unity America has often had. We’ve had it in the past, during times of crisis. We need unity on a wide range of social issues more often.

We need to spread the cement of friendship and brotherly love so our skill, our talents, our very soul and personality will cause every moral and social virtue to bind us a little closer together. People can agree and also politely agree to disagree on various topics.

We don’t need hyphenated-Americans, but Americans whose ideas, inventions, and productivity truly benefit other Americans.

After the recent Longview storms, I’m happy that neighbors helped neighbors. We need that spirit of helpfulness exhibited more often.

— James A. Marples, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.

Today's Bible verse

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’ ”

John 8:34

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