Eleven years ago, my kidneys shut down. My death was averted through the miracle of organ transplantation. At least that’s how I felt about the disease that killed my mother but which can now be treated with dialysis. I sent my friends long, happy-hysterical, picture-filled word documents in the aftermath of my euphoric battle with death. My attacker lay strewn along the beaches of Sanibel Island, desiccated by the sun and eaten in tiny mouthfuls by sand flies.
I was dancing the gift of life. My body hummed with electricity. “Nature without check with original energy”, as Whitman would put it. Or it might have been the high doses of prednisone :)
I dedicated my time to that gift. I saw it everywhere and tried my best to record and share it. I had a mission. I wrote a personal mission statement and took up photography as if I hadn’t left it (I had, for twenty-five years).
But death has a way of changing his tactics. We compare ourselves, becoming quick to anger, judgement and pointless debate. It eats away at simple joy, filling us with rage and frustration. It attaches itself to the soul like barnacles, waiting to apply the coup de grace.
I know we all feel that way sometimes. Not just me, but so many I’ve known and loved and others I’ve loved from afar. Reaching back for a mission statement is the last thing to do. I know where my mission statement is – on my desk in a folder I don’t have the heart to open. Better not compare oneself with one’s better self. Maybe it’s the loss of my dear friend Melanie after a seven-year battle with ALS, Death’s ugliest swordsman.
Here’s something I’ve revisited. It often works for me. I hope it works for you.
Song of Myself (partial, 1892 version)
BY WALT WHITMAN
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
The smoke of my own breath,
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world…..