There is a poem by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass that has resonated for me ever since I read it as a teenager. It’s about the struggle of existence with the transitory nature we have found ourselves in. The turbulent foam we move in. Perhaps even the quantum foam of spacetime itself as John Wheeler hypothesized.
This poem shows the empathy we have for others struggling as Whitman had for this swimmer. I knew such a courageous swimmer of life who died in a tragic accident roughly a year ago. He too was in his middle age. Never did I think when I read this decades ago that it would eventually embody a dear friend I thought would outlive me.
I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea, His brown hair lies close and even to his head....he strikes out with courageous arms...he urges himself with his legs. I see his white body....I see his undaunted eyes; I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him headforemost on the rocks, What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves? Will you kill the courageous giant? Will you kill him in the prime of his middle age? Steady and long he struggles; He is baffled and banged and bruised....he holds out while his strength holds out, The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood....they bear him away....they roll him and swing him and turn him; His beautiful body is borne in this circling eddies....it is continually bruised on rocks, Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.
And through his empathy, Whitman sees himself as the swimmer and through poetry becomes the swimmer as much as the witness. All of us in the foam. All of us swimming through randomness. Bound by our common struggle. Illuminated by our undaunted courage. Holding out against forces beyond our control.