“Miracles” by Walt Whitman
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim–the rocks–the motion of the waves–the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
On Thursday, I worked through this poem with a student. He was doing the work. I was just helping him read it, because, even though he is hilarious and smart as a whip, he needs help pushing through words rather than going back. When he started the poem, he lamented that it didn’t rhyme, and I mentioned that I like poems that don’t rhyme. But he said the rhythm of poems that rhyme helps him keep going, which is, of course, a valid point. I told him that I like Walt Whitman, and that I like this poem. He nodded, took that in, and went on.
When he got about a third of the way through, he said, “I get it, he sees everyday life as a miracle. Why couldn’t he just say that?” (Sixth grader. Told you he was smart as a whip.) I told him that then it wouldn’t be a poem. And that we still had to finish it. We laughed together, and then he made his way through the rest. When he finished, he turned the page and said, “That’s a good poem.” I have no idea if he really thought that or if he was just humoring me. I like to think that Uncle Walt would have appreciated the student’s thoughts (even his disapproval) and all his hard work.
This student reminds me of my brother at his age. My brother is extremely bright but had to work very hard when it came to reading, for some similar reasons as this student and for some very different ones. I don’t know if I believe in big, life-changing miracles, but I believe in the ones that Uncle Walt is talking about here, the miraculous grace of the everyday gifts we receive. And today I thought about how one of mine is that my brother, who had to work so hard, is doing so well. It’s not a surprise, because he is smart and tough, but it’s still a gift.
(Here we are over the summer. Photo taken by Alexa’s Photography.)
I want to pick this student up and let him know that he’s going to be fine, that it’s hard right now but it’s going to be okay. That we appreciate his hard work and that he is a fun, cool kid. That we all believe in miracles on his behalf, and that things like his sense of humor and his ability to be both blunt and polite are tiny miracles for me. But, honestly, listening to him read to me, push through what was so hard for him . . . it was as much as I could do to keep from crying. I sat with him and I remembered all the afternoons that I watched my grandma sit with my brother and help push him through his homework just in the same way. It’s different, but it is also so achingly similar.
It’s not easy, working with kids. It can break your heart. And it can teach you to see the miracles everywhere. Thursday was a little bit of both.