A photo of the Walt Whitman Birthplace site in Huntington, NY.
I recently joined a group of readers who meet weekly, for six weeks, to discuss four novels that are literary prize winners. Our group leader is George Wallace, former Poet Laureate of Suffolk County on Long Island. This is my second book group at this venue, the Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington.
I must admit that each time I think about it, I feel a frisson while sitting here in the backyard of the birthplace of Walt Whitman. The actual site is just footsteps away from where we meet. For me, a college English major, being back in this milieu of immersion is literature is a gift because I was not satisfied with my original experience of being an English major at Stony Brook University on Long Island. This time, however, I am ready for the discussions. It has taken a lot of life experience and a hell of a lot of reading in decades past to be able to absorb, comprehend and feel confident enough to express my own ideas in a book discussion group such as this one.
We sit in a lovely annex, with wood beams and walls and floors made of golden-colored planks. The building is small, shed-sized, but it has lovely floor-to-ceiling windows along one wall that look upon the lovely garden adjacent to Whitman’s birthplace. To me it feels like a sacred place; I come here mostly for replenishment of my soul. Being with a group of mature people from all walks of life, who’ve lived full lives, and to be able to participate in a give-and-take discussion with them about a significant work of literature under the guidance of a gifted writer is a dream come true.
I never thought that at nearly age 70, I’d finally be at peace with who I am or confident enough with my own perceptions to contribute to this collaborative experience that brings such obvious pleasure to us all. Being a part of this group makes getting older much more desirable than I ever imagined it to be. The nervousness and anxiety I experienced as a literature major in college is gone; I have finally shut the door on that chapter of my life and it’s a good feeling. If only we could figure out how to make education less competitive and and more nurturing and supportive so that others won’t have to wait until they are 70 to feel as I do. Or, perhaps, that’s just the way it is and I’m just lucky enough to have survived.