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Emily and the Solitary Life

It is morning, just after the sunrise.  I have washed all the dishes and cleaned the kitchen counter after a healthy breakfast.  I am sitting here with my mug of turmeric and ginger tea, watching the steam rise as it cools.  I am alone, and perfectly content.  In the quiet, I am thinking of Emily Dickinson.

Like any enduring writer’s work, I come back to Emily Dickinson at different seasons and find different and new things, not because her work is different, but because I am.  I first became enamored of her work when I was a proto-adult, just entering college.  For me at that time, she represented a kind of rebellious nihilism.  I dreamt of having the strength and courage to reject conventionality the way she did.

As I matured and started to take on and understand subtlety, and the often contradictory nature of our human souls, I understood Emily more as a tortured soul, who wanted human connection and love but lacked the emotional skill to handle it.

Recently, I have come back to an active appreciation of her work after several years of benign neglect.  A growing relationship with my partner sparked the renewed interest, and now I feel like I can finally separate the poems from the life more effectively.  To understand the life that informed the poetry without letting that life overshadow the work.

As many of us do with artists we admire, I felt a little bit of a kinship with Emily Dickinson.  This woman felt deeply and possibly had limited ways to express herself in her time, so she wrote pages and pages of letters and poems.  I am entering a period of exploration and growth into the last half of my life, and I am sensing the truth of the paradox:  in order to connect more deeply with other humans, I need to guard well my solitude.

And here is where, in my more mature understanding of the life of Emily Dickinson, I can see that our paths diverge.  For me, the solitude serves to remind me what is important and necessary about human connection so that I can go out and nurture the relationships that are important and necessary.  In my solitude, I know what it is I need to bring forth, and in my relationships, I find people who help me in that task.

In my current season of Emily Dickinson, I am reading more of her letters to her sister-in-law than her poetry, and thinking about the depth of their friendship.  It is significant to me that even in her iconic solitary life, Emily cultivated and nurtured such a bond.  From a place of solitude, she still engaged in deep human connection.

The sun is all the way up now, and from where I sit, the light lays directly across my face.  I have finished my mug of tea, and nearly finished my writing for this morning.  I have clients in a couple of hours, so I know I need to get up and enter into the world of people.  And I know I can do that with grace, because of this morning’s deep, satisfying solitude.

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