When I was in high school, I saw the movie With Honors for the first time. The movie stars Joe Pesci as a homeless man initially living in the boiler room of the Harvard University library. In the movie, a reference is made to students seeing Walt Whitman’s ghost in the library (Pesci’s character is initially disheveled and bearded and perhaps mistaken for Whitman’s ghost) and Whitman continues to play a role throughout the rest of the film. The movie also starred Brendan Fraser and Moira Kelly and I loved it for so many different reasons. But I’m writing about it here and now, because this movie was actually my first introduction to Walt Whitman.
At a climatic scene, lines from Whitman’s “Song of Myself” are read aloud (there are lines throughout the movie, but the ones at the end resonated the most with me).
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same.
Maybe it was my overall fascination with the movie, but this was where my love of Walt Whitman began. I started reading small portions of “Song of Myself”, but then I found a beat-up copy of Leaves of Grass from a used book store. Every so often I would pick up the book and start to read from the beginning. I never seemed to get very far, but I always loved what I read. At one point in high school, I scoured the book for an opening to an essay I had to write for my English class. (I received outstanding marks and liberal praise for that essay.)
Some time after that, I started to pick up my beat-up copy of Leaves of Grass whenever I was down. High school was very tumultuous for me, so the book was in my hands frequently. My family noticed. On one birthday, my sister gave me a brand new copy of Leaves of Grass. At some point, I figured out that Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass had become a sort of security blanket for me. No matter what I was feeling, I could open up that book (the beat-up, old copy or the shiny, new one) and find something written there that made me feel better. Walt Whitman calms me, cheers me, relaxes me, and improves my mood in whichever way is necessary at the time.
Just recently, Walt worked his magic for me again. I opened up a copy of Leaves of Grass and read some lines. The lines were so perfect for me at the time I posted them on my Tumblr account. Shortly after posting, my quote was featured in the #Poetry category and has been reblogged by many others. As anyone involved in the various social media and blogging realms knows, it’s very exciting to be featured and have your posts spread around. So, by turning to Walt Whitman at that moment, I not only found solace then, but joy has continued to spread with every notification I get about being reblogged.
Over the years, Whitman’s words have come to mean so much to me that I always have him with me. I have a copy of Leaves of Grass at home, one at work, and one downloaded onto my Kindle (which is always in my purse). So, now you know my security blanket, what’s yours?