Why did individual soldiers matter so much to Walt Whitman? The young men whom he provided care and comfort to as a volunteer in army hospitals during the Civil War.
As persons — not just “cases”; patients needing care and. above all, attention.
They certainly did. Witness the accounts — Whitman’s own — of his regular visits to hospitals in Washington during the Civil War.
Walt Whitman to Mr. and Mrs. S. B. Haskell, Breseport, County New York, August 10, 1863
And here is an excerpt from another letter showing how much people he encountered and got to know mattered to Whitman:
Walt Whitman to Hugo Fritsch, 1863
Allow me to talk about myself.
I am at a point in my life where I don’t need compliments — although, naturally, I appreciate and welcome them, store them up in my “bank” of pleasant remembrances.
But I don’t worry much about what people think of me.
I am introspective, often find fault with myself. I also have some knowledge of good points of my own that I might have once overlooked.
For instance: I think I appreciate this about Whitman — what I spoke of above — because I can see it in myself and my own behavior. Individuals I encounter in all sorts of situations in daily life are rarely negligible to me. They are almost all unique — all, a priori, interesting and valuable to me for having met them. This includes people met in what might be thought of as perfunctory encounters.
Whitman regarded it as a privilege to meet young soldiers from various places and backgrounds. The same with me with the people I encounter.
A couple of examples — trivial, except that they make my point.
Fiona, the clerk from Queens whom I engaged in conversation at a FedEx center on Madison Avenue a few months ago. (I was sending something.) She said she loved talking with me. I haven’t forgotten her. We compared notes about living in New York.
An HP help desk technician from India who answered a call recently. I found him very interesting and congenial and learned much from him about India and especially a particular interest of his: languages, including Sanskrit. As the talk progressed (during which he was working on my computer remotely), it got more and more friendly and interesting. He sent me an email after the online session:
November 4, 2022
Greetings of the day!!
This e-mail is with reference to your case ID : _____. If you have any issues please call us directly.
It was really really nice talking to you.
Have a great day!
The workers at my favorite pub: Philomena, Amy, Jemina, Yasmin, Alexa, Anniika, Bianca, Noureen, Fiona (my first waitress friend; just left).
I owe these traits and proclivities of mine to my parents. I would say that it is a matter of showing an appreciation for and a keen interest in people.
— posted by Roger W. Smith