Every Atom | No. 110

Brian Thiem

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

ea logo


To many people, diversity means searching for differences between themselves and others. To separate themselves from others. To divide people into different “tribes.” To celebrate their uniqueness as a means of distancing themselves from others unlike themselves.


I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,

Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,

Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,

Stuffed with the stuff that is coarse, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine,

One of the great nation, the nation of many nations—the smallest the same and the largest the same,

A southerner soon as a northerner, a planter nonchalant and hospitable,

A Yankee bound my own way . . . . ready for trade . . . . my joints the limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,

A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deerskin leggings,

A boatman over the lakes or bays or along coasts . . . . a Hoosier, a Badger, a Buckeye,

A Louisianian or Georgian, a poke-easy from sandhills and pines,

At home on Canadian snowshoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen off New-foundland,

At home in the fleet of iceboats, sailing with the rest and tacking,

At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine or the Texan ranch,

Comrade of Californians . . . . comrade of free northwesterners, loving their big proportions,

Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen—comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat;

A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfulest,

A novice beginning experient of myriads of seasons,

Of every hue and trade and rank, of every caste and religion,

Not merely of the New World but of Africa Europe or Asia . . . . a wandering savage,

A farmer, mechanic, or artist . . . . a gentleman, sailor, lover or quaker,

A prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician or priest.


In the above passage from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Whitman’s “I” notices all the things he is to identify his commonality within others. We are all made up of many “selfs.” I am a husband, brother, and father; an author, golfer, kayaker, and bicyclist; a former lifeguard, law enforcement officer, and soldier; a Pennsylvanian, Arizonian, Californian, Connecticuter, and a South Carolinian. I am a man, white, American, and the great grandson son of German immigrants. I am a conservative, a liberal, a moderate, and a progressive. I’ve loved and hated, been courageous and cowardly, and felt joy and sorrow. I am human, with all my strengths and frailties.  


I resist anything better than my own diversity,

And breathe the air and leave plenty after me,

And am not stuck up, and am in my place.


Although no one in this world is everything I am, everyone is something I am. Instead of judging others for their differences—different appearance, different background, different life journey, and different opinions and beliefs—and dividing ourselves from others based on them, we should strive to accept our differences, learn from them, and find commonality in our similarities. 


I think this is what Whitman was telling his readers in 1855, and this message is even more important today.

Brian Thiem

Brian Thiem spent 25 years with the Oakland Police Department, working Homicide as a detective sergeant and later as the commander of the Homicide Section. He’s also a veteran of the Iraq War, and retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel after 28 years of active and reserve duty. He is the author of Red Line, Thrill Kill, and Shallow Grave


Cover art by Grayson Becker