A Whitman Blueprint

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” –Walt Whitman

 

This is one of my favorite Whitman quotes that I revisit often. I find that his words speak volumes on how we might behave when we step out to greet the day. It reads like a blueprint or the coordinates for our moral compass–a straightforward plan with clear directions.

 

As Bakewell Farm prepares to collaborate in 2019 with the Youth Coalition and the Center for Youth and Community Development, we were asked to develop four themes around a series of hands-on baking experiences. One of the themes is moral courage. Again, Whitman asks us to, “Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others.” This is where the moral rubber hits the courageous road! Whitman’s contemporary, Mark Twain once wrote, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” What then does courage look like when you “take off your hat to nothing known or unknown” and do so without fanfare? Even Thoreau’s edict for the wise to live an extemporaneous life demands some degree of courage or self-reliance.

I ask myself whether there are any examples of moral courage in making bread? Perhaps it can be found in the self-reliant qualities of making sourdough bread. (I’m thinking specifically about the many steps required to maintain a healthy sourdough culture) No more reaching for the instant yeast! Or is it about the two days required to: build a fire in the brick oven, refresh your sourdough culture, mix a large batch dough by hand, rake out the ashes, allow the oven temperature to settle to the proper baking temperature, load with proofed loaves of dough, and pull out fully baked loaves from the oven to cool? Is practicing this archaic craft process itself a form of moral courage? I’m still pondering the ambiguities. All I know is happiness is found through time well spent. Consider giving the simple gift of time this season. “Time, as the poet Nick Laird wrote, is how you spend your love.” Or as Philip Larkin says, “Of each other be kind/While there is still time.” Have a safe and Happy New Year!

 

Marc Jalbert, Founding Director of Bakewell Farm, a 501c3 non-profit whose mission is to promote “bread-centric” educational programs for building community while engaged in the practice of public service. Please visit us at: www.bakewellfarm.org