I retired last week.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease
observing a spear of summer grass.
— Walt Whitman
I retired last week.
No, I didn’t quit my job, I took a week’s vacation without a scheduled trip requiring planning, packing, driving, reservations, unpacking, etc.
No agenda, except for reading mystery novels set in Italy followed by an afternoon nap.
What I imagine retirement to be like.
And just to make sure there was absolutely no stress I refrained from playing golf.
The highlight of the week was a leisurely afternoon drive, with my little bride, the back way over to Joplin to visit Spiva Art Gallery, shop a little, and enjoy a delectable, crab-stuffed trout supper in the dim light of Crabby’s.
But, alas, retirement ends this week, and with it the realization — to paraphrase Calvin and Hobbes — there never enough time to do all the nothing you want to.
In my ‘retirement’ I found myself thinking about slower days gone by, specifically the early 1900s when there were no pesky cell phones or e-mails. No radio and television even.
The primary form of amusement around here was live entertainment in the form of home talent shows, band music, traveling vaudeville acts, lectures, etc. Pittsburg had a couple of opera houses and three open-air “Air Dome” theaters in which to stage entertainment.
People inclined to amuse themselves with reading — or listening to poetry and prose read aloud — could pick up a book or attend a program at Pittsburg Public Library.
Last week, Bill Sollner, actor, puppeteer, filmmaker and lover of the spoken word, called from Arma to leave a message on my machine that said he’d been listening to a series of CDs on Walt Whitman that made him think he could be a road goer — like Whitman in his epic poem “Song of the Open Road.” When I called back we discussed getting together to read some of the good gray poet’s words aloud since his birthday, May 31st, was fast approaching.
A week or so earlier I’d received an e-mail from Randy Roberts, of PSU’s Special Collections informing me that the library had a copy of the words and sentiments gathered "at the graveside of Walt Whitman.” Randy pointed out that speakers quoted Confucius, Gautama, Jesus the Christ, the Koran, the prophet Isaiah, John the Revelator, Zend Avesta, and Plato in addition to Whitman himself.
Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not, so I dug out my copy of “Leaves of Grass” and read aloud a couple of his poems. That did it. The poems brought my bones alive with the idea of walking with Walt: “Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road.”
I’ve been a lover of Whitman’s poetry since high school when fresh-from-college Marian Wood introduced us to him in English class. Recited his poetry at our wedding. Have long regarded him as this country’s most outstanding poet.
But it hasn’t been until recently, when comparing his words with great spiritual leaders through the ages, that I’ve come to see him as the most enlightened person America has yet produced. So the e-mail from Randy Roberts about what was read at his graveside came as no surprise.
Anyway, I got so high-tingled with Whitman that I called Pittsburg Public Library to book a room, contacted Bill Sollner, who agreed to read from “Leaves of Grass” with me, and the first annual Walt Whitman Birthday Bash was set for today.
All that was left was to get some exquisite music to enhance the spoken word. Immediately, Paul Carlson, PSU music professor emeritus, master violinist, and transcendent thinker, came to mind. His answer to my invitation to join us, “I’d be honored.”
Nothing left to do but issue the invitations.
So, ladies and gentlemen, young men and maidens, you are invited to celebrate Walt Whitman’s 190th birthday in a joyful afternoon of poetry, prose, and music at 3 p.m. today at Pittsburg Public Library. Admission is free.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org