One of the most impressive sights in the natural world is the difficulties resisted and overcome by a tree in its struggle for life. On the very summit of the Sentinel Dome, over eight thousand feet above sea-level, there is rooted in the apparently solid granite a lone pine two feet in diameter. It is not tall, for its struggle with the wind and snow has checked its aspirations, but it is sturdy and vigorous, while the wonder is that it ever established and maintained life at all. Where it gains its nourishment is not apparent. Disintegrated granite seems a hard diet, but it suffices, for the determined tree makes the best of the opportunities offered. Like examples abound wherever a crevice holds any soil whatever. In a niche of El Capitan, more than a thousand feet from the valley’s floor, grows a tree a hundred feet high. A strong glass shows a single tree on the crest of Half Dome. Such persistence is significant, and it enforces a lesson we very much need.
Reason should not be behind instinct in making the most of life. While man is less rigidly conditioned and may modify his environment, he, too, may nourish his life by using to the full whatever nutriment is offered. Lincoln has been characterized as a man who made the most of his life. Perhaps his greatness consisted mostly in that.
We are inclined to blame conditions and circumstances for failures that result from our lack of effort. We lack in persistence, we resent disparity in the distribution of talents, we blink at responsibility, and are slothful and trifling. Our life is a failure from lack of will.
Who are we that we should complain that life is hard, or conclude that it is not better so? Why do we covet other opportunities instead of doing the best with those we have? What is the glory of life but to accept it with such satisfaction as we can command, to enjoy what we have a right to, and to use all it offers for its upbuilding and fulfillment?
How evident it is that much more than good intentions is needed in one who would either maintain self-respect or be of any use in his daily life! It is not easy to be good, but it is often less easy to be right. It involves an understanding that presupposes both ability and effort. Intelligence, thinking, often studious consideration, are necessary to give a working hypothesis of what is best. It is seldom that anything is so simple that without careful thought we can be sure that one course is right and another wrong. Perhaps, after we have weighed all that is ponderable, we can only determine which seems the better course of action. Being good may help our judgment. Doing right is the will of God.
“Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.” Abraham Lincoln had a marvelous aptitude for condensed statement, and in this compact sentence from his Cooper Union address expresses the very essence of the appeal that is made to us today. We can find no more fundamental slogan and no nobler one.