I Contain Multitudes

Walt Whitman wrote, “I cannot be awake for nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.” How many more lessons in life are left to be learned? I’ve found so many, it seems, so many all at once. For a time, there was no present for me. Life was the future, and it cost me that future. And then followed a time when all was the past, and slowly that past faded away from me. A lecture not long ago taught me the importance of the present, and somehow, though the words struck deep into me and I was able to preach them to others, they didn’t settle. I referred to my time here as a sojourn, focusing only on the next leg of the journey.

Has it always been this way? Have I ever lived in a place where I could settle enough to enjoy the existence? I have, several times, but not in a home per se. I found the simple joy of now in the blades of grass brushing my bare feet as I walked, or the smell of sweet spring in the dewy air as I broke camp for another day of hiking. In nature I found something I couldn’t anywhere else, the present. As I leave my apartment each day and take the brief walk to my car, my mind floats back to the days in the woods walking over sandy trails, blazing a rocky one, or cutting across a stream, pausing to stare up its glorious length in awe. I drank in that stream and it became a part of me. As Chief Seattle said in his letter to Lincoln in 1852, “The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst.” It is not just a physical thirst. I’ve always understood the Earth as a spiritual place where everything is sacred.

“We are part of the earth as it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family. The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors.” (ibid)

Whitman’s charge, “O lands! O all so dear to me - what you are, I become part of that, whatever it is,” speaks the oath more clearly and poetically than I can dream. In those moments of pure “now” I feel securely and utterly part of the world. I am not a driving force of the web, but a simple strand of it. Though I may manipulate, change, affect, grow, it is all part of that web’s design. As a priest once told me, “How can a person have a plan that is not God’s, when we are all part of Him?”

I heard the words again today. “Whether you are here for four years for four weeks, you are here now. Be here.” Not quite the words of a poet, priest or chief this time, though his character has no end of quoting such people. Instead, it was the sublime wisdom of the character “Chris” from Northern Exposure. He was always a guide in the show, and he managed to speak his mind again. Why his words, written in the guise of a fictional show should resonate more deeply than an established educator and artist is beyond me. There are no bounds to the complexities of the human psyche.

So again, I will refocus. I push myself to live in the now and not preoccupy myself with the uncertainties of the future. That time will always become the now; the only time it is truly important. Somehow, though, I know that I will continue in the ways I always have to a point. Part of me, a very big part of me, has always been a dreamer. That part will always be more concerned about the possible than the present. Sometimes, though, that can be its own spiritualism. Then the question can always be raised–

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” - W. Whitman