Monday, August 17, 2009

The Man in the Arena - The Strenuous Life

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Some might recognize this quote as coming from President Roosevelt. No, not FDR. The "other" President Roosevelt, Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, 26th President. The quote, which I use to decorate my classroom, is from a speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris a year after he left office in 1909. I am not ashamed to say that among my heroes are several Gentiles, and Teddy Roosevelt is one of them. I mentioned him at least once before in this blog. The President's life was an inspiration for my own. In particular, he had been a sickly boy like me, with a keen intellect and wide-ranging interests. His father told him in substance that he had the mind to be whatever he wanted to be, but to make the most of it he would have to make the body. He set up a gym in the back of his house (this was the late 19th century, before health clubs became ubiquitous) and the young Teddy Roosevelt made the body. He transformed himself into a robust young man, and at the age of 39, during the Spanish American War, resigned as Secretary of the Navy to personally lead the Rough Riders in the charge up San Juan Hill.

The Rough Riders

I did not learn until recently that Teddy Roosevelt lived most of his adult life not far from here, on a large estate that he named Sagamore Hill near Oyster Bay in Nassau County, that his estate is now administered by the National Park Service as a National Historic Site and that he is buried not far from his estate. As a child I visited FDR's estate in Hyde Park with my parents, and last week I visited Sagamore Hill by myself. Thanks to Google Maps I was able to ascertain that the trip was possible without a car, and to plan out my route in advance. I took the Long Island Railroad to Oyster Bay and ran about a mile and a half to the gravesite. I could have taken a taxi from the train station, but that would have been cheating, like riding the cable car to the top of Masada. To truly experience the meaning of Sagamore Hill or Masada, you have to challenge yourself physically with a demanding run, bike ride, hike or climb.

Citizens of Oyster Bay are justly proud of Teddy Roosevelt having called their town home. A bust of the President stands beside a war memorial at the town hall.

On the way to the cemetery, you pass Oyster Bay High School, beautifully landscaped like a college campus. Oyster Bay is a wealthy community, and students there cannot help but see that the community takes their education seriously. It is all a matter of values.

The grave is located at the top of a hill, and you reach it by climbing 26 steps, Roosevelt having been the 26th President. The grave itself is enclosed by a fence to prevent the stone from being damaged by repeated touching; you might have noticed that the massive Herodian stones of the kotel are worn smooth up to the height of a tall man by centuries of rubbing and kissing.

I found a couple of people visiting; it is gratifying to know that 90 years after his death people still revere his memory enough to visit the simple grave. After they left I recited a couple of Psalms and wrote a small kvittel (note), which I inserted through the fence into the grass on the other side. Then I left the cemetery and ran another mile and a half, mostly uphill, to Sagamore Hill itself.

The day was hot and muggy. I had prepared for the run by drinking a 20-ounce bottle of Powerade, which I purchased at the beachfront park near the train station. The concession stand was staffed by high school or college aged kids. Could it be that they have responsible parents, who teach them the difference between "I need" and "I want?" What they need, their parents provide. What they merely want, they have to work for. When I reached the entrance to the estate, I was drenched with sweat. I didn't mind. The hard effort was part of my communion with Teddy Roosevelt, who extolled The Strenuous Life and did not seek ease and comfort.

At the visitors' center I was amused by a sign warning that Teddy Roosevelt's house was not air conditioned and the indoor temperature was in the 80s. The house had fans whirring and providing all the cooling I needed; I would have felt cold if it had been air conditioned. Alas, the furnishings dating from the President's lifetime disagree. They are deteriorating due to summer heat and humidity, and next year the house will be air conditioned, with a new technology that will not detract from the architecture. Teddy Roosevelt was an avid hunter and conservationist; the two often go together. The house is decorated throughout with rugs made out of skins of animals he hunted, with the heads still attached in the style of the time (warning to the squeamish). Indoor plumbing was a rarity when the house was built, and you can see the pull-chain toilet.

I visited the museum, housed in another building that was air conditioned. Here are some photos of the exhibits:

The Man in the Arena

Political considerations delayed Teddy
Roosevelt's Medal of Honor for nearly a
century after the action for which he
earned it.

Teddy Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley. Sixty-two years later, Lyndon B. Johnson would become President in the same way. May we be spared such tragedies in the future.

"We love all the seasons. . . ."
I am decidedly partial to summer.

A sign posted on the grounds by the National Park Service warns visitors of the dangers of heat exhaustion. I made sure to drink plenty of water before the three-mile run back to the railroad station. Then I filled up again with a bottle of Powerade. If you're in shape, acclimatized and pace yourself appropriately, you can stay out of danger. San Juan Hill was not air conditioned.

Sagamore Hill is an inexpensive and enjoyable destination. I got a lot out of the trip, and I recommend it to any athlete who admires Teddy Roosevelt as I do, and who is not afraid to challenge himself and to embrace the strenuous life.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you read Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough about TR's childhood and pre-president years? I wasn't looking for a biography of TR, but selected it because I thouroughly enjoyed some of McCullough's other works. If you haven't read it, I recommend it.

Tue Aug 25, 08:56:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your write beautifully! I love this post! Keep sharing!!

This is Joshua from
Israeli Uncensored News

Mon Sep 07, 02:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zach Kessin said...

TR was amazing, I will always credit him with the US National Park system. To have the vision to protect places like Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Wed Nov 04, 10:53:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Sun Mar 07, 08:58:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thu Mar 11, 07:47:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zev Stern said...

Anon -

Totally off topic, and the English is so bad it is incomprehensible.

Thu Mar 11, 10:41:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Genial post and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you for your information.

Fri Mar 19, 12:22:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please email me.

Sat Apr 24, 02:08:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home