Understanding Walt Whitman




I am no better than you; you are no better than the planets in your orbit; we are a part of each other and compliment the world in which we live.

I am the young man who assembles the two bean burritos for your lunch every Thursday, hoping to never accidentally slice off the tip of my forefinger while cutting up onions for a mere 25 cents above minimum wage.

You are the mechanic who peers inside my car’s engine wondering just how long it’s been since I’ve had my oil changed. That long? Well, it’s a miracle this car is still on the road.

I am the grizzly, old school bus driver who works hard at ignoring the noise of confined children. I secretly wish I could be their age again, sitting in the back and making the younger kids giggle every time I belch another letter of the alphabet

You are the welder sitting behind the wheel of your pickup truck, tapping the steering wheel with your fingers, wondering when this school bus is ever going to get moving. You’re running late and can’t afford to lose your job. Oh, to be a student again, you think. Responsibilities? Get to class on time, eat lunch, play a bit of basketball, absorb the mysteries of history and math, maybe even dissect a frog or two. Those were good days.

I am the trash collector who is happy not to have to work in an office; but boy, sometimes this stuff really stinks.

You are the old fisherman stranded on a boat in the middle of the lake, frustrated that you forgot to refill the fuel tank, but thankful that your wife packed an extra sandwich and a cold beer.

We are the teachers who at times have trouble making our classes understand; the preachers who voice having the same problem; the dairy farmers who wake up with the stars; the police officers out on midnight patrol.

We are the homeless who stand on the street corner, holding signs for help; the activists standing on other street corners holding different signs; the grocery store cashiers who smile and say, “Have a great day,”; the other grocery store cashiers who keep looking at the clock.

We are the writers, the musicians, the artists and poets who bare our hearts and ask, “Was it good enough? You’re not just trying to be polite, are you?”; we are the cooks, the waiters, the gardeners and delivery people who think, “This may not be much, but I will do the best that I possibly can.”

We are alike and different; each a wondrous one-of-a-kind creature made of exactly the same ingredients -- molded star dust destined to grow into ourselves, do our taxes, forget to take out the trash, eat too much ice cream, go on fad diets, tell long stories without noticing the glaze in our listener’s eyes, get sick, rewrite our wills leaving everything to charity (those relations shouldn’t have looked so eager for me to pass on), and then eventually die and decay into fertile dust, making way for new leaves of grass.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully understand the essence of Walt Whitman. But if he spoke truth when he wrote, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” then without doubt we all have a little bit of him inside us – a little bit that whispers in our ears: Be kind to those who are different, because they are us and we are them.

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