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Reflecting on Walt Whitman (Part I)

Song of Myself, a poem by Walt Whitman, entered my life, and the lives of my classmates, during our tragic loss of Jake Nawn, a wonderful friend and thinker. Jake’s death has been confusing and frustrating for people who knew him, but reading Whitman has given new life to a situation surrounded by sorrow and uncertainty. Perhaps, if we could undo language, self-awareness, and the
illusory nature of right and wrong, up and down, or boys and girls then we could see the world through a continuous lens, like Whitman attempts to do in his poem. Perhaps, in a small way, death is an escape, or rather, a transcendence. As Whitman writes in Song of Myself:

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at
the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier. (190-6)

Death is confusing because it is displayed and understood as an impossibility, shrouded by darkness and waiting on the peripheries of time and reason, but what if it is not as foreign, unknown, or mysterious as we believe? What if death is awe? A transcendence that is impossible to grasp during our day-to-day activities, but always present and animating the nature of change. The tragic flaw of humanity is our inability to wrap life and death into the same meaning. Theoretically, we understand the limitless of life—and death—but the language we use to gain this knowledge is also the barrier standing in our way.

When death occurs, language disappears along with consciousness and self-awareness, eliminating the duality of reality and forming a unity of being. Jake’s death is not a tragedy, but a revelation. He took the road to awe, leaving ignorance, suffering, and doubt behind him. I do not mourn for Jake; I celebrate his deliverance.

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I
know it. (197-9)


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