In Defense of a Poet
I read Leaves of Grass and marveled at Walt Whitman’s ability to celebrate the human body and soul. I read The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War, loaned to me by The Gold Puppy, and learned how as a nurse Whitman brought comfort to those injured during the Civil War. I was sad to discover the cruelty with which Whitman was often treated during his lifetime because of his lifestyle and his willingness to write about things others would never dare to express. When Leaves of Grass was published, he lost his job at the Department of the Interior because of its content. I wished he could be alive today to be celebrated as the genius he was.
Then I read today’s Washington Post article about the seven congregants from Kansas who set up outside Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda to protest the sexual orientation of the poet for whom the school was named. I realized sadly that little had changed in the minds of some people.
I was encouraged to read that at one point 500 students issued forth from the campus and lined up opposite the protesters to chant “Go home!” The school turned the day into a learning experience, spending time reading Whitman’s verse, having lessons on tolerance, even estimating the size of the crowd. Students were quick to condemn the paltry protest.
The congregants from the Westboro Baptist Church have gained national notoriety for their anti-homosexuality demonstrations. I hope they got the message that Walt Whitman High School is proud of its name and quick to defend its namesake. I guess they missed the lesson on tolerance in Topeka, Kansas.