There was a time when I was so unsure of myself and my ability to figure out what the next step in my day, let alone life, should be.  I blamed myself for all that went wrong around me and in my loveless assumptions.

In the intervening years, learning I had to accept things I don’t like in the lives of people I cherish has helped me accept the unthinkable in my own experience. But, years ago, when I first read the following poem by Emily Dickinson it was like being visited by an angel.  The fact that I was so overcome with anxiety that the idea of life’s final inch felt very real, made the poem practical in the extreme.  

It was probably the first time I began to see that among the 1,789 poems Dickinson left us, there was an important group of tutorials. Some have called them “teaching poems”.

I stepped from Plank to Plank

A slow and cautious way

The Stars about my head I felt

About my Feet the Sea — 

I knew not but the next

Would be my final inch — 

This gave me that precarious Gait

Some call Experience — 

As I read, I got inside the script as a character crossing the ocean. Gingerly balancing on planks of wood gives me a picture of the fear-ridden life I inhabit.

As the character in this drama, I know that it is without actually looking up that I feel dizzy knowing that there are stars above, “The Stars about my head I felt” and the sea beneath, “About my Feet the Sea — ”.

The irrational conviction I lived with, “I knew not but the next/Would be my final inch —” was made clear.

Finally, there is the promise that if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I will wake one day with something everyone else in the world but me seemed to have: “Experience —”.


Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way