Feb. 4, 2009

Of The Terrible Doubt Of Appearances

by Walt Whitman

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,
Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,
That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all,
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable
May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills,
     shining and flowing waters,
The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, may-be
     these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and
     the real something has yet to be known,
(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me
     and mock me!
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,
     aught of them,)
May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they
     indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and
     might prove (as of course they would) nought of what
     they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed
     points of view;
To me these and the like of these are curiously answer'd by
     my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while
     holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and
     reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom, I am
     silent, I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of
     identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.

"Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances" by Walt Whitman. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Stewart O'Nan, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1961. He's the author of Snow Angels (1994), Wish You Were Here (2002), and his latest, Songs for the Missing (2008). He said, "The two hardest things about writing are starting and not stopping."

It's the birthday of the feminist Betty Friedan, (books by this author) born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1921. In high school she was smart and loud and not conventionally pretty, so she wasn't popular. She went to Smith, an all-girls college, and she loved it there. She graduated with highest honors. Then she got married, had kids, and became a suburban housewife.

She went to her 15-year reunion at Smith and conducted a survey to see how content her peers felt with their domestic lives. She discovered that most women expressed some sort of vague unhappiness, which Betty Friedan called "the problem that has no name." So she decided to write a book.

She wrote about the cultural myth that women were expected to find fulfillment in lives of domesticity, in roles as mothers and wives, and she coined a name for that myth, which was also the title of her book: The Feminine Mystique (1963). It was a huge best-seller, and it helped kick off what became known as the "second wave" of feminism (the "first wave" was women's suffrage).

It's the birthday of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (books by this author) born in Breslau, Prussia, in 1906. He finished his doctoral dissertation in theology by the time he was 21. And in 1930, he went to Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he studied theology by reading the work of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, and other writers of the Harlem Renaissance. He went to a black church and taught Sunday school there. Then he went back to Berlin and recognized the extreme anti-Semitism there. Bonhoeffer became an active opponent of Hitler's new government. He published an influential book on the theology of social justice called The Cost of Discipleship (1937). Bonhoeffer joined a plot to assassinate Hitler, and he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. He spent years in jail and was executed just weeks before the end of the war.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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