Thursday, April 30, 2015

O Me! O Life!

                                Chapter Twenty-one                           
                            O  Me!    O  Life!

                              The Cabin in the Clearing at ShaboMekaw

In the golden days of my youth and middle age, when I discovered ShaboMekaw and dreamed of escaping to Kinniconick for all of my days, the world was a very different place.  One weekend in the 1960s several friends had gathered at the cabin and after dinner on Saturday night we talked about Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring”.  For the first time some people were showing concern about humankind’s impact on nature.  I recall lamenting the impending danger to air and water and to trees and birds.  “What if all the birds are gone?” I asked..  Several of my friends laughed but one said, in a reproachful tone, “You sound like an old man!”

Too soon the world has changed, too soon our birds may be gone.  Our skies may be become barren and our oceans may die.  The destruction that humans have wrought is almost beyond repair.  A baby boy or girl born today will join a population boom of five billion by the end of this century, and the planet is already struggling to sustain the multitudes.  Only inspired leadership can save the world.

Those of us who may sound like “old men” and “old women” because we recognize the dangers in climate change and global warming, and agonize over the death of coral and the declining species of fish, and mourn the extinction of plants and animals, we are the friends of the earth.  Every wild place needs protection and we have a duty to save it.  ShaboMekaw remains one tiny oasis in this sea of indifference.  That little corner of the world was saved by Sharmon and Todd, and I will always be grateful, just to know that it is still there, much as it was 50 years ago.  Memories warm my heart in old age and give me hope.  Kinniconick will always give identity to my life.

In 1892, Walt Whitman reflected on his life and identity.  Way back then the cities were “filled with fools”, the “sordid crowds struggled and plodded”, much as they do now.  If he were alive today, Walt Whitman would agonize and mourn with all of us who see the world on the brink, “empty and useless years” stretching before us.  But Whitman the poet had an answer for all of those recurring questions.  Oh, Walt!  We need you again to “contribute a verse”. 

                                                      O Me!  O Life!
                                                         by Walt Whitman     

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me!, so sad, recurring — What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here — that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

“Dead Poets Society” is one of my favorite movies of all time.  The late Robin Williams recited this Whitman poem to his students in an unforgettable scene.  Click on link  to view this beautiful clip.

1 comment:

  1. Dead Poets Society is a great movie; thanks for reminding me of this wonderful verse. I also read the letter you sent Todd that you had written to a friend about some of the issues you talk about here, and found it very eloquent. It's a shame there aren't more of us "old men" (and women) who feel the same way. I have great fears about the kind of world my grandchildren and great-grandchildren (no, I don't have any yet) may someday encounter, and know that the destruction of our natural world is happening at a greater rate then some had predicted. Yet I feel helpless and tiny when the scope of the problem is so huge, and the people who perpetuate it so powerful. I guess we just have to voicing our opinions and spreading the word.