I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil,
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
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
Walt Whitman wrote the lines above in his famous “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass. I recall hating that poem the first time I read it, as a teen in English class. I thought it was embarrassingly egotistical and oblivious. Others called it democratic or inviting of friendship, but I couldn’t see it.
However, some 20 years later, having studied Vedanta, I see it in a whole new light. I read it and think that something inside Whitman sensed what now colors my reality; that we are all one, and to celebrate the self is to celebrate every living thing and even god.
There are scientific facts that actually support some of Whitman’s lines, such as atoms belonging to me as much as you. For instance, a quick Google search will tell you that “studies at the Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center have revealed that about 98% of all the atoms in a human body are replaced every year. You get a new suit of skin every month and a new liver every six weeks. The lining of your stomach lasts only five days before it’s replaced.” Where, then, do the atoms go? Well, they are transferred from thing to thing, making their way from New York to China in a matter of weeks, for instance. In your lifetime, you will have had atoms in your body that once belonged to the stars, Jesus, and Genghis Khan, for instance. So that when Whitman stared at a piece of grass, perhaps he saw life. Perhaps he also saw death, like the scene with the gravedigger in Hamlet, where Hamlet realizes that Julius Caesar may have become the clay that another man uses to patch a hole in the wall.
When I contemplate the wholeness then of every living thing, and how deeply integrated its energies and its matter, I don’t feel so alone. Today is one of the anniversaries for me; you know the ones – you feel them in your bones as they creep toward you on the calendar. You feel heavy and tired, you don’t sleep, you lose your appetite. Sometimes you don’t even realize why, until you see the date, as though your body knows better than your brain does. In these times, it helps me to remember that my husband lived every day of the calendar year. He lived fully, and was happy. And I have had his atoms in my body. Perhaps I do even today. He is part of me forever. He’s vivid in my memory. I can clearly hear the ring of his voice, I remember his smell, and all of his ways. If time is truly non-linear, we are together in exactly all the ways I cherish, even now – and for all eternity. To me, this is even better news than those alabaster castles in the sky we were promised, those which I have to wait until I die to go visit. And, although I do think my understanding will be clearer after death, when this nervous ego finally quits its pestering of my soul – I can sense all of the love and closeness that we had, right now. I talk to him, I remember him, we are together so closely that in a way I am him, while I continue on my own personal journey.
I hope this helps you, too. If you struggle with survivor’s guilt or complicated grief or PTSD, it may help to simply meditate on your togetherness sometimes. Remember your person, see your memories as though they were yesterday, as though there will be a tomorrow very much like them. Try not to long for them, but just observe and appreciate them. And celebrate. I’m with you, there in your heart, just as every energy that ever was, is so near to you, too. You’re not alone. Open up and let in the stars. They are all celebrating and singing you and your loved one, and me and mine. Take strength in this, on your journey to healing, and listen to the music.
Photo taken from Healing Music | Derived from cosmos