The COVID-19 pandemic, although radically different in various ways, has obtained US resides on a comparable scale–to date, roughly 550,000. Amid the horrible loss of life, such ordeals offer courses about living. One such source of insight is also America’s great poet of democracy, Walt Whitman, who devoted over three years of his life to voluntary service at the bedsides of dying and wounded Civil War soldiers.
The literary critic Harold Bloom famously announced Whitman that the”imaginative parent” of Americans, describing his”Leaves of Grass” as the best candidate for the secular scripture of the United States. What Whitman believed and hoped for the nation extended beyond politics to the national creativity, and his own creativity was shaped by what he’d experienced tending the sick and hurt. His shifting accounts of this war and also his personal reaction to it offer sage adviser to COVID-19-weary Americans looking hopefully to spring for relief in the pandemic’s ravages.
Produced in 1819 on Long Island,” Whitman spent a lot of his life from Brooklyn, leaving school at age 11 to help support his family. He eventually found his approach to journalism, founding his own newspaper before opting to become a poet. In 1855, he self-published”Leaves of Grass,” a poetry collection that he continued to revise throughout his life. Six years after, with the outbreak of warfare, among his brothers, George, enlisted in the Union cause. When Whitman saw his brother’s name onto a list of wounded soldiers at late 1862, he immediately traveled south to locate him.
After much searching, Whitman was thrilled to discover that his brother had endured just a shallow wound. Obtaining a part-time position for a paymaster’s clerk at Washington, DC, Whitman resolved to stay in the city, home to numerous military associations, where he’d devote the majority of his free time to care for the wounded. He later wrote,”These three years I consider the greatest privilege and satisfaction, and the profound lesson of my own life .”
What exactly did Whitman do for the patients? He recognized that mere medical diagnosis and treatment left vital needs unanswered, especially the demand for companionship. The physicians would proceed quickly from bed to bed, overwhelmed by the amount of wounded. Working as a volunteer, by contrast, Whitman can linger at the bedside, listening to his patients, reading them stories, and in some instances, holding their hands. Their requirement for medical attention has been equaled by their own longing for a buddy.
Whitman’s has been a ministry of presence. He’d work a couple of hours at the paymaster’s office then go to the bedside, laboring there for a lot more. He wrote:
During those three years at hospital, camp or area, I made over six hundred visits or excursions, and proceeded, as I estimate restricting all, one of from eighty million to a hundred million of the wounded and sick, as sustainer of spirit and body in some level, at time of need. These visits diverse from one hour or two, to every single night or day; for with critical or dear scenarios, I usually watched all night. Sometimes I ended up my quarters at the hospital slept or observed there several nights in succession.
Whitman was discussing some of the handiest but universal of resources, his timing, focus, and empathy with all the ailing, frightened, and often homesick young guys of both the Union and Confederate forces.
It is just in the encounter of life’s precariousness that the entire preciousness can emerge. The pandemic is such a reminder, and from it, all can find out how to celebrate each day using gratitude.Although owned of non invasive way, Whitman shared even more. In addition to kind words, he attracted whatever trifles he can get his hands on:”all sorts of sustenance, blackberries, peaches, lemons and sugar, perfumes, all sorts of preserves, pickles, brandy, milk, and shirts and most articles of underclothing, tobacco, and tobacco, and handkerchiefs.” Ever the poet, Whitman also brought them paper, envelopes, and stamps, so they can write for their loved ones. For many who have been illiterate and many others who did not know what to say, Whitman would take dictation or perhaps write in their behalf.
For one Nelson Jabo, Whitman composed another letter for his wife:
You have to excuse me for not having written to you before. I have not been very well and did not feel much like writing–however I feel considerably better today –my criticism is an affliction of the lungs. I’m mustered out of service although not present well enough to come back home. I trust you will try to write back once you get this and let me know how you are, how things will –I want to know how it works with mother. I compose this by way of a buddy who’s currently sitting by my side and I hope it’ll be God’s will that we shall meet again. I send all my love.
Through newspaper accounts, books, and documents, Whitman also shared his own experiences with a larger audience, helping ensure that the American people, largely way removed from conflict, understood the magnitude of the sacrifices being made in their behalf. Of one young man, he composed,
I don’t understand his past life, however I feel as if it must have been great. At any rate what I watched under the trying circumstances, with a painful wound, and also among strangers, I could say that he appeared so brave, so composed, so sweet and affectionate, it could not be surpassed. And now like some other noble and great guys, after serving his country as a soldier, then he’s yielded up his young life at the outset in her services.
Amid the present outbreak, several attributes of Whitman’s work bear accent. One is the simple fact that he served without formal responsibility or reimbursement. No one expected him to give years of his entire life to the service of complete strangers. There was not any job description to which he needed to conform, as a result, quite simply, it was not his job. What he witnessed first in searching for his brother later daily at the military associations –the terrible situation of the wounded–transferred his heart to act.
Something similar can happen today, amid the outbreak. Even though fear of contagion may leave it imprudent or perhaps impermissible to tend to the pandemic’s victims at their bedsides–especially the sickest one of them–the opportunity to serve isn’t foreclosed. The collateral damage of COVID-19 goes far beyond these infected with the virus, and that penumbra offers ample space to answer this type of call. For example, the decrease in human connectedness brought on by social media, isolation, and quarantine puts a premium on efforts to reduce loneliness and let people know that someone is thinking about these.
Confronted with the fragility of human life, Whitman did not even turn his back but looked it straight in the eye. He discovered that at the bedside of the sick and dying, he could see death and life more clearly than elsewhere, and it taught him something about what it means to actually live, to savor time with someone else. Mortality, it appears, isn’t a bug but a feature of life, and it is just in the encounter of life’s precariousness that its entire preciousness could emerge. The pandemic is such a reminder, and from it, all can find out how to celebrate each day with gratitude.
Whitman not only watched but pictured. He guessed a mommy in Ohio, getting the letter bearing news of her son’s death, written in another’s hand. In”Come Up from the Fields Father,” he wrote:
The pandemic’s biological, economic, and educational damage has been great. However, also, is that the toll it has taken on the minds, hearts, hearts, and spirits of the fellow citizens, neighbors, and also individual beings. In such conditions, we will need to remember not just the damage we’ve seen, however, the damage that we’ve not seen, the wounds that cut deeper than flesh. It is not just Whitman’s abilities of description and perception that offer opportunities for studying and emulation, but also his moral creativity, from which shines forth the chance, even amid catastrophe, of salvation through support.