Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Claude Debussy and Diana Nyad
Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy

On this date in 1862, Claude Debussy, the originator of "musical impressionism," was born. Becoming a student at the Paris Conservatoire at 11 years of age, Debussy went on to win the 1884 Prix de Rome. From 1887 on, he spent his life writing musical compositions, rarely performing. His most famous works are "Claire de Lune," and the orchestral "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," based on a poem by his friend Stephene Mallarme. His works included orchestral suites, preludes, a ballet and even an opera. Cancer-ridden, he died during the bombardment of Paris by Germany. “His themes — so frequently taken from Mallarme, Verlaine, Baudelaire, etc., — sufficiently indicated his entire rejection of creeds, and he had a secular funeral” (Joseph McCabe on Debussy in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, 1920). D. 1918.

"I do not practise religion in accordance with the sacred rites. I have made mysterious Nature my religion. I do not believe that a man is any nearer to God for being clad in priestly garments, nor that one place in a town is better adapted to meditation than another. When I gaze at a sunset sky and spend hours contemplating its marvelous ever-changing beauty, an extraordinary emotion overwhelms me. Nature in all its vastness is truthfully reflected in my sincere though feeble soul. Around me are the trees stretching up their branches to the skies, the perfumed flowers gladdening the meadow, the gentle grass-carpetted earth, . . . and my hands unconsciously assume an attitude of adoration. . . . To feel the supreme and moving beauty of the spectacle to which Nature invites her ephemeral guests! . . . that is what I call prayer."

—Claude Debussy, as quoted in Claude Debussy: His Life and Works (1933) by Léon Vallas, p. 225

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad

On this date in 1949, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (nee Sneed)was born in New York City to Lucy Curtis and William Sneed, a stockbroker who died while she was an infant. When she was three, her mother married Greek land developer, Aristotle Nyad, and the family relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Taking her stepfather’s name, Nyad emerged as a swimming sensation. Despite hardships such as sexual abuse by her coach and a less-than-stable household, she won several swimming accolades as a high school athlete. A battle with endocarditis prevented her early Olympic aspirations, but within a year, she recuperated and went on to pursue a college degree. She was briefly a pre-medical student at Emory University (expelled for parachuting out of her dormitory window), then earned degrees in English and French as well as Phi Beta Kappa status from Lake Forest College in 1973. After graduation, Nyad resumed her focus on long distance swimming, setting major records, including swimming around Manhattan in under eight hours in 1975. She set the women’s time record for swimming ten miles across Lake Ontario and subsequently broke a series of long distance records at locations such as the Suez Canal, the Nile, and the Caribbean. 

On September 2, 2013, she accomplished an arduous, 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida unaided by shark cage or fins. In 1978, at age 28, she first attempted the journey from Cuba to Florida, but her dream was derailed by unsafe conditions necessitating an unwieldy shark cage. A year later, after setting a world record for crossing from the Bahamas to Florida, she took a 30-year hiatus from long-distance swimming endeavors and instead worked in broadcast journalism, including “Wide World of Sports,” “One on One with Diana Nyad” and NPR’s “The Savvy Traveler.” In 2011, she decided to reattempt the trip from Cuba to Florida. She tried three more times until finally succeeding the monumental feat—her dream—her fifth attempt, at age 64. She attributes her success to mental strength and discipline, more so than physical stamina. 

Nyad is multilingual, a motivational speaker, who was honored by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and National Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her books include a memoir, Other Shores (1978). She is “out” about her long-term relationship with a woman. She completed a 48-hour charity swim to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. She was featured in a controversial episode of Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday,” during which she discussed her identity as an atheist in “awe” of the universe and humanity.


I’m not a god person...I’m an atheist who’s in awe.

——Diana Nyad during “Super Soul Sunday”on the Oprah Winfrey Network, October 13, 2013

Compiled by Yuna Choi; Photo by Helga Esteb,

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