When eleventh grade rolled around, my English teacher announced it was time to choose our subject for the final term paper and that we had had enough time to consider our choices. Now it is my spirited recollection I was sitting in my seat rather passively without a single idea running through my mind. I truly mean to say, yes, I honestly do remember that during that particular moment in time I was in a state of unwavering bliss with everything but a thought in my head. I recall hearing the teacher's voice asking each student one by one to announce an American writer to do research on and write a lengthy paper for. So in the same way, like taking attendance, names were called out and instead of the reply being "here," we were to say,
"Edgar Allen Poe."
"John Steinbeck." The match-up game continued and so on.
Now it is again my recollection that while the names were being called out like the click of a gun's trigger, I felt a slight tinge of anxiety. My eyes were darting around the room as I tapped my pen, thinking very hard, because in my own mind I was much more interested in Seventeen Magazine, playing air guitar to Zeppelin's Dazed and Confused and occasionally escaping to the mall with friends to look for guys, I mean clothes. Therefore, it is to me quite a mystery, and I am still in complete wonderment to this day, although by now I'm getting used to it, that when the teacher came to calling my name, and with her double sided classic red and blue teacher's pen poised in the air above her paper awaiting my reply, the answer rolled off of my tongue like soft ice cream streaming down a dreamy-eyed five year old hand on a warm summer day.
"Walt Whitman." I said.
"Walt Whitman." She murmured as she wrote it down next to my name and nodded.
How did that happen? How did I know who Walt Whitman was? How did his name arise in my head next to Leif Garret's? There was a brief moment, I think, that during that momentary exchange in that stuffy classroom I felt a hand on my shoulder. I can look back on this event, and realize that this could have been the very starting point of cosmic, angelic, celestial, heavenly-Nicholas Cage intervention. Someone in a higher place knew what was good for me and therefore put it before me, allowed me to taste it, follow it, reject it, thrive on it or hate it. It could be a random book, an extraordinary thought, a bad dream, a helpful stranger, a distant friend, or an event that scoops me up and spits me back out. I am sure there may be earlier accounts throughout my childhood I could wonder about and lean into, however, I believe, this was indeed one of those "look here" moments.
I still thank the forces that brought to me Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The Song of Myself held more deeper meaning that I could ever know, and from that day I felt as if it were my own song as it spoke to me.
I Celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Darker forces have been after ever since.