Thursday, August 19, 2021

Wise Words from Walt Whitman

This one was from my newsletter, but I decided to also post it here, because who couldn't use a little wisdom from a great poet?

I was reading the other day about the famous American poet, Walt Whitman, and learned that at the age of 53 he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, yet he still managed to keep a positive outlook for the rest of his life and find joy in the natural world.

During our present times, when so many people are struggling in the face of this continuing pandemic, I find his reaction to that debilitating setback to be an inspiration.

I wonder if I was in a similar situation to Whitman, and lost my freedom of movement, would I be able to muster such enthusiasm for life? He makes the case that much of it comes down to managing one's expectations.

In his book, Specimen Days, Whitman shares his philosophy:

The trick is, I find, to tone your wants and tastes low down enough, and make much of negatives, and of mere daylight and the skies.

Later he goes on to say:

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.

Whitman also speaks of the importance of friends and loved ones in his life.  As he wrote in a letter to a friend on his 64th birthday:

I easily tire, am very clumsy, cannot walk far; but my spirits are first-rate. I go around in public almost every day — now and then take long trips, by railroad or boat, hundreds of miles — live largely in the open air — am sunburnt and stout, (weigh 190) — keep up my activity and interest in life, people, progress, and the questions of the day. About two-thirds of the time I am quite comfortable. What mentality I ever had remains entirely unaffected; though physically I am a half-paralytic, and likely to be so, long as I live. But the principal object of my life seems to have been accomplish’d — I have the most devoted and ardent of friends, and affectionate relatives — and of enemies I really make no account.

I think that with the challenges facing so many of us over these past few years, there is certainly a valuable lesson in these words.  Now more than ever, it's important to appreciate the good things in life and keep it all in perspective.

My own challenge currently is that as I continue to write each day, I'm simultaneously getting started on a nine-week radiation treatment for prostate cancer.  It will involve daily sessions until the end of October.  I'm glad to have my creative outlet to keep me otherwise occupied, but not sure how productive I am going to be during this time.  We'll just have to see.

Whatever challenges you might be facing yourself, I hope you can find some inspiration in Whitman's words as well, to go outside, look up at the sky and breathe in the beauty of this miracle of a planet that we are fortunate enough to call home.

No comments:

Post a Comment