Even the COVID-19 pandemic, however radically different in lots of ways, has obtained US resides on a similar scale–thus far, roughly 550,000. Amid the terrible loss of life, such ordeals provide lessons about living. One such source of insight can also be America’s great poet of democracy, Walt Whitman, who devoted more than three decades of his life to voluntary support at the bedsides of wounded and dying Civil War soldiers.
The literary critic Harold Bloom famously declared Whitman the”imaginative parent” of all Americans, describing his”Leaves of Grass” because the ideal candidate for its royal scripture of the United States. What Whitman believed and hoped for the country extended beyond politics to the national creativity, along with his own creativity was shaped by what he experienced tending the ill and hurt. His moving accounts of their war and also his personal reaction to it provide sage counselor to COVID-19-weary Americans appearing to spring for relief against the pandemic’s ravages.
Born in 1819 on Long Island,” Whitman spent a lot of his life at Brooklyn, leaving school at age 11 to help support his loved ones. He eventually found his way into journalism, founding his own paper before deciding to be a poet. In 1855he self-published”Leaves of Grass,” a poetry collection he continued to revise during his life. When Whitman watched his brother’s name to get a list of wounded soldiers at late 1862he immediately traveled south to locate him.
After much hunting, Whitman had been thrilled to discover that his brother had endured only a superficial wound. Obtaining a part-time standing as a paymaster’s clerk at Washington, DC, Whitman solved to stay in the city, home to numerous military associations, where he’d devote the majority of his free time into the care of their wounded. He later wrote,”These three years I believe the greatest privilege and satisfaction, along with also the most profound lesson of my life”
What did Whitman do for your patients? He realized that only medical diagnosis and treatment left crucial demands unanswered, especially the demand for companionship. The doctors would move fast from bed to bed, overwhelmed with the number of wounded. Employed as a volunteer, by contrast, Whitman could linger at the bedside, listening to his patients, reading these stories, and in some cases, holding his palms. Their requirement for medical care was at least equaled by their own longing for a friend.
Whitman’s was a tradition of life. He’d work a couple of hours at the paymaster’s office then go to the bedside, laboring there for more. He wrote:
During those three years at hospital, camp or field, I made more than six hundred visits or tours, and went, as I estimate counting , one of from eighty thousand to a hundred thousand of those wounded and ill, as sustainer of soul and body in a certain degree, at time of need. These visits varied from an hour or two, to every single day or night; for with critical or dear circumstances, I normally watched all evening. Sometimes I took up my quarters at the hospital slept or observed there a few nights in succession.
Whitman was sharing a few of their most priceless but universal of all resources, his timing, focus, and compassion with the ill fated, frightened, and frequently homesick young men of both the Union and Confederate forces.
It is simply in the experience with life’s precariousness that the full preciousness can emerge. The pandemic is such a reminder, also out of itcan learn to celebrate every day using gratitude.Although owned of non invasive way, Whitman shared even more. Along with form words, he attracted whatever trifles he could get his hands on:”all kinds of sustenance, blackberries, peaches, lemons and sugar, wines, all kinds of preserves, pickles, brandy, milk, and tops along with all articles of underclothing, tobacco, tea, and handkerchiefs.” Ever the poet, Whitman also attracted them envelopes, paper, and stamps, so that they could write to their loved ones. For many who have been illiterate and many others who didn’t know exactly what to sayWhitman would take dictation or even write on their behalf.
For one Nelson Jabo, Whitman wrote another letter to his wife:
You have to excuse me for not having written to you . I have not been very nicely and didn’t feel like writing–however I still feel much better today –my complaint is an affliction of the lungs. I am mustered out of service although not at present well enough to come back home. I hope you will try to write back after you get this and allow me to know how you all are, how things will –let me know how it is with mother. I write this by way of a friend who is now sitting by my side and that I hope it’s going to be God’s will that we shall meet again. I send all my love.
Through newspaper reports, poems, and newspapers, Whitman also shared his own experiences with a wider audience, helping ensure that the American public, largely far removed from battle, understood the size of the sacrifices being made on their behalf. Of one young guy, he wrote,
I don’t know his past life, however I feel as if it should have been good. At any rate what I watched under the most trying situation, with a painful wound, and also among strangers, I could say he appeared so courageous, so composed, so sweet and affectionate, it couldn’t be surpassed. And today like many other noble and great men, after serving his country as a soldier, then he’s given up his young life at the outset in her services.
Amid the current outbreak, many attributes of Whitman’s work bear accent. One is the simple fact he functioned without formal obligation or reimbursement. Nobody expected him to give up years of his life to the support of complete strangers. There was not any job description to which he had to conform, because, very simply, it was not his job. What he observed first in hunting for his brother later every day at the military hospitals–the horrible plight of the injured –moved his heart to act.
Something similar can occur now, amid the outbreak. Though fear of contagion may leave it imprudent or even impermissible to occur to the pandemic’s victims at their bedsides–notably the sickest one of them–the opportunity to function is not foreclosed. The collateral damage of COVID-19 goes far past those infected with the virus, which penumbra offers ample area to answer this type of call. For instance, the decrease in human connectedness caused by social distancing, isolation, and quarantine places a premium on attempts to decrease loneliness and let people know that someone is thinking about these.
Confronted with all the fragility of human life, Whitman didn’t turn his back but seemed it directly in the eye. He found that at the bedside of the sick and dying, he might see life and death much more clearly than elsewhereand it taught him a thing about what it means to truly live, to relish moment with someone else. Mortality, it seems, is not a bug but a feature of life, and it’s simply in the experience with life’s precariousness that its full preciousness could emerge. The pandemic is such a reminder, also out of it, everyone can learn to celebrate every day with gratitude.
Whitman not only saw but pictured. He imagined a mother in Ohio, getting the correspondence bearing news of her soldier son’s death, composed in another’s hand. In”Come Up from the Fields Father,” he wrote:
However, the mother has to be much better,
She with thin form presently drest in black,
By day her meals untouch’d, then at nighttime
fitfully sleeping, often waking,
At the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing,
O that she might withdraw unnoticed,
silent from life escape and withdraw,
To follow, to seek, to be with her dear
The pandemic’s biological, economical, and educational harm has been great. However, too, is the toll it has taken on the minds, hearts, hearts, and spirits of the fellow citizens, neighbors, and also individual beings. In such circumstances, we need to remember not only the harm we’ve observed, however, the harm that we’ve never seenthe wounds that cut deeper than flesh. It is not only Whitman’s powers of description and perception that offer opportunities for studying and emulation, but also his moral creativity, from which shines forth the possibility, even amid catastrophe, of redemption through service.