When Emily Dickinson Puts You In Your Place

On Monday I had the pleasure of attending a talk hosted by the Forest Hills branch of the San Antonio Library with guest Dr. Glenn Hughes — newly appointed 1st Chair in Catholic Philosophy at St. Mary’s — on the topic of “Emily Dickinson and Spirituality”.

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I really enjoyed the discussion at this event. I vaguely remembered her poems from high school and some college but I had been recently re-reading some of her work in honor of National Poetry Month. What struck me about Dickinson was her capacity to be authentic. She was true to herself, even when that self was so very conflicted. She is so transparent in her writing because it was hers and hers alone. I’m not sure what she would think about the fact that the whole world is reading some of her most private thoughts that she never intended to see published. Nonetheless,  I’m glad we have them for our sake.

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I feel like I can relate to some of her motivations in writing and even some of her lifestyle choices. Dickinson is traditionally typed as an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). As a fellow INFJ,  I can see the appeal of living what appears to be the life of a recluse even though the 1800 plus poems that she crafted in her space hardly speaks of the pigeon holed “spinster” that we have made her out to be. She was doing her life’s work in that room. She was someone that lived in her head and that is evident in much of her writing that wrestles with the idea of eternity.

What I love about her work is the humanity of it all. She is so effortlessly genuine, albeit messy at times. She seeks to appease no one. She is on a mission for understanding and she needs to write it out in order to come to find her resolve. It is no wonder that scholars have compared her writings to Job of the bible as he wrestled with God.

Dickinson was no stranger to what St. John of the cross refers to as the “dark night of the soul”.

I’m banished – now – you know it
How foreign that can be –
You’ll know – Sir – when the Savior’s face
Turns so – away from you –

Even in her doubt, she did not hide her contempt for those who utterly disregarded the divine.

How much the present moment means
To those who’ve nothing more —
The Fop — the Carp — the Atheist —
[…]
While their commuted Feet
The Torrents of Eternity
Do all but inundate —

Throughout the ebb and flow of this inner turmoil of questioning and seeking, she can’t seem to abandon her notion of the divine, as mysterious as it is to her.

I know that He exists.
Somewhere – in silence –
He has hid his rare life
From our gross eyes.

One of the themes that was discussed was Dickinson’s bravery in how she expressed herself. Even today in 2016 we see people at the opposite ends of two extremes when it comes to faith. You can either ignore the nagging questions, add more activity and “take it by faith” or you can throw your faith away, become jaded and rely solely on science, logic, and reason. But why not both? The bravery that we see in Dickinson is that she doesn’t give up the struggle for an easy “I’ll hang my hat on that” ending. She doesn’t care about being contradictory in her writing. She cares about finding the truth.

I dwell in Possibility

As a Christian, I try to err on the side of hope. I do have moments when I can feel jaded and skeptical, and that’s ok. Emily puts us in our place. Her writing seems to cry out, “never stop searching and don’t be afraid”. Let’s get messy! Let’s not be afraid to have a “taboo” conversation that may or *gasp* may not have a resolution! Don’t be afraid of your questions or doubts. Let them provoke you! I wish I knew what Emily’s last conclusions were when she died. All anyone can know for sure is that she never stopped having the conversation. She never stopped seeking. I think that is the greatest lesson she can teach us — greater than any eloquence or masterpiece her arrangement of words to the page may prove to be.

Life, theology, and faith are not always precise, color coded and by the book.

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond –
Invisible, as Music –
But positive, as Sound –
 .
It beckons, and it baffles –
Philosophy, don’t know –
And through a Riddle, at the last –
Sagacity, must go –
 .
To guess it, puzzles scholars –
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown –
.
Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies –
Blushes, if any see –
Plucks at a twig of Evidence –
And asks a Vane, the way –
.
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit –
Strong Hallelujahs roll –
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul –

Sometimes you can’t be a Paul. Sometimes you need to be a  Job.

♥ MM

The One Where I Found Tall Man, or The Misadventures of a Tipless Finger

Almost 4 months ago I had a freak incident where my right middle finger was slammed in the bathroom door and the fingertip was severed clean off at the cuticle. It was a pretty traumatizing experience for me. Today my fingertip is mostly healed, so I would like to reflect on what the past few months have been like.

The ER is never fun whether it’s a fever that won’t go away or, you know a SEVERED FINGERTIP.

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I spared FB with my ER pics.

Not so here.

This is your last chance to look away.

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When it first happened I didn’t even realize my finger tip was gone. I was in shock at the pain and looked down and noticed it was gone. Still in the door. I retrieved it and somehow managed to text this to my husband who was at work to take me to the hospital (no the pic isn’t upside down the bottom part was my cuticle).

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After they soaked my hand in “monkey’s blood”.
Yes, I did take the tip with me to the ER.
In a Bowl.
On Ice.
Turns out fixing a finger tip is a little more complex then sewing a button back onto a shirt.
For shame.

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Post Vicodin (obviously).

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Christmas was the worst. Do you know how hard it is to wrap and unwrap presents with a hurty digit? On a more serious note, my grandfather passed away 8 days after my incident, on Christmas Eve, no less. It is so bizarre having to cope with physical pain and emotional pain at the same time.

Even though I am left handed,  I started to realize how much I truly have acclimated to using my right hand for most things aside from writing. At one point I actually started making a list of all the things that were near impossible since the incident but stopped around 11 because it was too depressing after a while. Here’s a sample.

  1. Opening a medicine bottle
  2. Opening an envelope
  3. Changing a diaper (the whole bathroom situation, really)
  4. Using a credit card reader
  5. Turning over the ignition switch
  6. Typing (10-keys were especially annoying)
  7. Showering (especially bathing my kid)
  8. Strapping in a car-seat
  9. Clapping
  10. Handshakes and Hi-fives
  11. Snapping your fingers

Funny thing, those last three.

In January I got the urge to snap my fingers when “Baby It’s You” suddenly got stuck in my head. It was incredibly annoying. Who doesn’t snap to that song? Seriously?

Then the whole church situation had me like…

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for a good while.

You never truly realize how much touching is involved in a church service until it becomes (literally) painfully awkward to do so. Handshakes, high fives, shoulder pats, corporately shaking you’re neighbor awake (I kid you not) before during and post service really get you thinking “Should we be touching this much in church?” and also “Am I buying enough hand-sanitizer?”

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I never really thought twice about clapping my hands in church until it hurt. I found myself compensating by trying to be extra smiley during worship because we all now that clapping hands and jumping around means you’re realllly worshiping (sarcasm, ha!)

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I couldn’t end this update without including some of the interesting dialogue from my husband who was completely supportive, loving and understanding through this whole healing process. My husband is also hilarious and is great at making connections with illustrations. So I wanted to share three comparisons that were mostly meant to make me feel better, but made me laugh instead.

When the incident first happened and we were driving home from the hospital, Angel says, “Hey Toni Iommi lost his fingers and it didn’t stop him from playing guitar! You can just put a thimble over your finger.”

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One day I was asking Angel for the car keys and he tossed them to me from across the room and I caught them with my left hand. Even though I am left handed, I typically only use my left hand for writing, so it doesn’t come naturally for me to throw or catch with that hand. Surprised at my reflexes Angel said, “Hey, maybe now that you can’t use your right hand you will be like daredevil and your left hand will compensate for you.”

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And more recently after I was mostly healed, my husband was like “Oh man I totally forgot about Frodo!!” Ironically I had my own little Gollum slam the door on my finger.

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The human body is an amazing thing. The doctor told me that it was unlikely my nail would ever grow back because my nail-bed was completely severed. During the healing process my nail-bed somehow shifted down my finger and today the entire nail has grown back. I still have nerve damage and dull pain from time to time but I have regained most use. We had a brief dumpster-side ceremony to say goodbye to my dearly departed digit. Seems silly, but in a way, a literal part of me died that day and it just didn’t seem right to not say goodbye.

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Welcome back, Tall Man.

♥ MM