One of my favorite poets of all time is Walt Whitman. The combination of both cunning and candidness he uses in his works makes for a truly breathtaking expression of one person’s thoughts on life. Imagine, then, my delight at the Apple commercial that came out about a month ago. It contains a voice-over of Robin Williams from the movie Dead Poet’s Society (coincidentally probably my favorite movie of all time). In it he quotes from Whitman’s Poem, Oh Me! Oh Life! The part of the poem that is not included in the commercial is the first stanza, where Whitman reflects on the purpose of being alive as a human being. He reflects on the multitude of people walking through life faithless and cities full of the “foolish.” He then ponders on his self-reproach; describes himself as the most faithless and foolish of all. What then, could be the purpose of his life? What good could a single life possibly play in the tangled mess that is life?
That you are here – that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
How difficult the answer is to understand, but yet how incredibly powerful. My life is important; my individual life. I am one person in a world of an estimated 7.18 billion people. I am here, my identity is true, and I can contribute a verse in the play of life.
But how? Do I have to join the Peace Corps or be in the Military? Do I need to become a doctor and save lives? Should I become a teacher so that I can affect the lives of children?
My answer is that I get to contribute by being true to myself. Unlike Whitman, I can look at myself and be happy with what I see. I can be good enough, just as I am. I don’t need to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or be the President of the United States. By virtue of being me, being alive, and being happy I get to write my verse. Maybe I will choose to join the Red Cross Disaster team and respond to victims of floods, hurricanes, and other disasters. Or maybe I will choose to be the best aunt, sister, and daughter I can be. Both are valid, and both are important. Maybe I write this blog and it reaches someone on a level that allows them to think more about their personal verse. Whatever the case, I am writing my verse because I feel confident and proud of the woman that stares back at me in the mirror.
My life has been profoundly affected by spending last moments with a dying patient, seeing the birth of my nephew, and sharing a conversation with a homeless person urinating in the fountain in Love Park in Philadelphia. My life has also been profoundly affected by mental illness, willfulness, close-mindedness, and hate. All of these moments are foundations for me just as strongly as my DNA allows me to have been born. What I have come to realize is that in this crazy web of life we are part of other people’s versus as we create our own verse. I have had a nearly insatiable drive since early college to make some huge, earth-shattering contribution to the human race. As I’ve transitioned to adulthood, I realize that accepting myself, as I am, in the moment, allows me to have the greatest affect on others. I am happy, I am dedicated to myself, I am willing – and those qualities are now allowing me to write my verse.
What do you need to do to be able to think about contributing a verse, and how will you know when you’re ready to begin? What is the importance to you of being afforded the honor of contributing a verse merely by being born into the human race? Ultimately, what will your verse be?