If my life is like a problem that must be solved by breaking it down into manageable components, “The first Day that I was a Life”, by Emily Dickinson, may provide a kind of map.

The first Day that I was a Life
I recollect it – How still –
That last Day that I was a Life
I recollect it — as well —

‘Twas stiller – though the first
Was still –
“Twas empty – but the first
Was full –

This – was my finallest Occasion –
But then
My tenderer Experiment
Toward Men –

“Which choose I”?
That – I cannot say –
“Which choose They”?
Question Memory!

I view myself in terms of before and after several events. Before and after sexual abuse at age nine. “I recollect it — How still —” my life seems, then: “The last Day that I was a Life” unused to buried thoughts, rampant need and suspicion. 

“I recollect it —as well —” when my daughter drove off and never came home. “’Twas stiller — though the first / Was still —” in a childlike way. The earlier wariness informed my subsequent  dread. I could not prevent the first from contributing to the definition of the “.. finallest Occasion —”, my “second life.” Having learned early on that days and years could unfold without waiting for me to unfold, to disclose I “’Twas empty — but the first / Was full” of newness.

When I was a child, “my tenderer Experiment” with trust “Toward Men — ” weakened my adaptation, slowed my grief over my child. And contributed to blindness toward the needs of my other children.

If, at last, I have a choice and can determine an ideal environment to create an equally pivotal but preferred condition, “Which choose I?” 

The poem does not suggest a limit on how many times a life can experience one of these before-and-after seismic shifts. Only that they engender separate lives. And, that to “Question Memory!” may help explain the role others have played. Whether my decision to access support and comradery among other students of Dickinson since I moved to Amherst will prove equally self-defining, “That — I cannot say —”.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way