Today, I turn back to a trusted poet, one whose work amplifies my messages of the past week, one whose heart laid claim to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. He expresses that heart-spirit through his life. No matter what the critics said or the public thought, he wrote. He pursued happiness; he lived life; he laid claim to liberty to say what he wanted to say, to create how he wanted to create, to expand the spirit of America. Walt Whitman.
In 1874, Whitman wrote a poem, “An Old Man’s Thoughts of School,” for the inauguration of a public school in Camden, New Jersey. Whitman has the unique insight to see the foundational spirit of America and to know that the grand scheme was originally authored to be an ever expanding, evolving concept, always based on those “unalienable rights.”
In a similar way, he looks at those students in 1874 and sees the same possibilities in them: “And these I see, these sparkling eyes, / these stores of mystic meaning, the young lives, / Building, equipping like a fleet of ships, immortal ships, / Soon to sail out over the measureless seas, / On the soul’s voyage.” This is the great “mystic meaning” he sees in America, not just a nation but an organism, a living, breathing child full of possibilities.
In another short poem, “Long, Too Long America,” Whitman, having witnessed the Civil War, still sees the promise, as if the nation had come through the pangs of a new birth, perhaps the “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln referenced in the Gettysburg Address. He says, “But now, ah now, to learn from cries of anguish, … / And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are…” He sees the events in America’s history as children who will grow into the amazing possibilities that real children hold. He could see those things bound up in a child, what futures, what power, what insights, talents, abilities — those “stores of mystic meaning.”
To develop all of that potential energy, to convert it to kinetic energy, requires education, and that is where Whitman sees that power of conversion. In “An Old Man’s Thoughts of School,” he asks if education should be allowed to be defined by “Only the tiresome spelling, writing, ciphering, classes? / Only a public school?” No, he claims in one of those mystic meaning ways that America’s present and future is tied directly to education.
Education must be “infinitely more,” and that to know why America is what she is and what she will be, our gaze must “To girlhood, boyhood look, the teacher and the school.” It better be a dynamic experience, not rooted in old-school school, which is why I demand that education must be redefined, because, in case we haven’t noticed, we got a shit load of problems.
Whitman held immense hope for the future of America. In his time, he knew that America was still evolving and would always be so. The tough times, events like the Civil War, were like children who held possibilities and could be transformative for us, but NOT if we do not have the ability to think and create freely, and to learn from such.
After the recent situations of death and destruction due to racism, bigotry, prejudice, whatever, the ego-nurturing that occurs in schools and society, that forced conformity in so-called faith and values, that shit needs to go if the spirit of this nation would grow.
Hearts need to be heard, and as far as I’m concerned, the only answer to all the ugliness is the grassroots groundswell of individuals choosing to hear their hearts, discover core Self, and create life purpose. A life purpose borne of the heart is one that benefits Self and others.
“An old man gathering youthful memories and blooms that youth itself cannot.” See the possibilities!
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!