Dig It

When you say you like one thing and then say you like another, you’re just doing what great minds have often felt free to do. Didn’t Emerson call a foolish consistency the hobgoblin of little minds?

I love Emerson’s writing and was thrilled to receive a pewter bust of him for Christmas. Still, at the same time I’m often sore at him, for all kinds of reasons, like changing his wife’s name to something he found more “classical-sounding” , and withdrawing into his books when their little boy Waldo died, leaving the poor wife doubly bereaved. I also feel like “Oh easy for him to look down his long nose at the littler minds, he who never made a bed or picked up after tea!”

But that’s how it was to by a gentleman of the comfortable class in the 19th century. They never carried their full chamber pots down the stairs mornings. They never hauled a hundred pounds of boiling water up the stairs for anyone’s bath. Invisible and nameless others did that for them.

So see? You can admire someone on one level and be mad at him at the same time. (Think marriage, any marriage.)

And remember that other famous quote from Emerson’s same century? Give ya five bucks if you recognize who said this one:

“Do I contradict myself? Then I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes.”

Yup. That was Walt Whitman, whose genial free spirit made stuffier 19th century types almost burst their corset buttons. Word of him even reached quiet Emily Dickinson in her seclusion who said never read his book, but was told it was “disgraceful.”

But that’s what you have to love about the guy. That maxim “Nothing human is alien to me”? That was Whitman all over. He could sing the praises of a pile of Plague corpses if you caught him in the grip of one of is ecstasies. (Could and did just about. Remember the “beautiful uncut hair of graves”? Remember him happily enriching fthe soil with his own lifeless body?)

I admire Whitman very much. I guess I’m more like him than I am like Emerson. One day I would love to visit his house in Camden NJ, but until I get to do that it might be enough to just go outside and dig things the way he did.

Hmmm looking outside here. Cloudy right now with a sky that looks like cake batter ladled into the pan. Like dirty snow. Like soiled bed linens. And yet an amazing radiance just at the horizon.

Dig it. It’s all God asks of us.

9 thoughts on “Dig It

  1. “If the only prayer you say in life is “thank you,” this is sufficient.”
    Say’s Meister Eckhart, O.P. 13th Century Mystic, Poet, Scholar and Feminist.
    Big fan of his, he’d agree with your “digging it.” That’s the key actually, to unlock the door of gratitude each day, come rain or shine. It’s waking each day to find some bells that still can ring, though there be a crack in all things. Some of the most beautiful flowers grow in a dump.

    I read between the lines here that in us all, there is both the capacity to be a giver and a taker. Complex creatures, we are. I also recalled that oft quoted phrase, “A woman has a right to change her mind.” Fickleness, inconsistency, not exclusive I guess, to self absorbed male types. I think, though I may be off the mark (?) that it is the paradox in us humans that gives way or contributes to our own unique capacity to create, to offer something..clones would not offer much and if so, the produce would be the same. Huh?

    Whitman, a genius. Emerson too, in his own right. If I may submit my man, it would be the Master Of Muse, Henry David Thoreau, only because his ego was not as nearly large as other male giants of thought. Henry, was humble. Poor in spirit. A rare and charming quality. Please allow me to share a typical Thoreau one liner, when on his deathbed.

    As Henry lay in bed dying, his Aunt suggested, “Henry, you had better make your peace with God.” The Wonder of Walden replied, “Oh? I never knew we had quarreled.”

    Only a guy who dug it all his life can say that…

    1. love that deathbed line!
      Know your man Meister Eckhardt too and am a fan too.
      I like best what Oscar Wilde is said to have proclaimed on his deathbed: “either that wallpaper goes or I do.” 🙂

  2. Having been an observer of humanity for these six-plus decades, I must admit that I find the single philosophy zealots annoying and suspect. I feel more comfortable with the humbler souls who can indeed change their minds as they process the world around them. As long as their trend is positive (positive meaning “helpful” as in 1 Cor 13:4) I would consider their ideas.

    Left wing/ rightwing, extremists…. narrow and dangerous.

  3. Enjoyed this column! Regarding the Emily Dickinson quote about Whitman. Knowing Dickinson, she may very well have been facetious in this remark (written in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson). It’s hard to imagine that the always intellectually curious Dickinson at some point in her life didn’t read Whitman, since she was a great admirer of Emerson, who had pubicly praised Whitman on the publication of Leaves of Grass.

    1. Hmmmm I think you’re probably right David! That letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson IS pretty coquettish, so maybe she WAS just pretending to be shocked! Certainly she seemed a pretty frank brave soul otherwise. (Remember “Father and Mr so-and-so spoke at length about the Deity and embarrassed my dog”?)

      True too about Emerson saying “I greet you at the dawn of a great career” or whatever it was. And wasn’t he surprised to see that Whitman plastered the quote all over the next edition. He must have been the first “modern” American writer, on the hustle like that. 🙂

      Thanks for this David. I feel as though you are sitting beside me.

  4. I Love this column, Terry. “I Dig it” is the perfect hippy term to express our gratitude for what is.
    “I Dig it” and “As a rule I’m a fool” have enterd my lexicon!

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